Child's Play

The new Child’s Play morphs into nuts-and-bolts science-fiction.

I never much liked the 1988 Child’s Play, which probably says more about me than about the movie, as screenwriter Don Mancini’s homicidal living doll Chucky became enormously popular and appeared in half a dozen sequels. I did appreciate Jennifer Tilly’s self-deprecating humor, actually playing herself, in 1998’s Bride of Chucky.

The ginger doll’s iconic look, armed with Brad Dourif’s creepy delivery, perpetuated the franchise for 30 years. It’s only natural that someone should think, “Remake!” Thus we’re treated to the second of two films this week that concern talking playthings that belonged to a kid named Andy (Hi, Toy Story 4).

Director Lars Klevberg’s “re-imagining” includes single mom Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza), son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) and his brand-new toy, the reworked Buddi doll, but there are significant alterations to the mythology beyond replacing Dourif with Mark Hamill as Chucky.

This Child’s Play casts Chucky not as a doll possessed by the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray (also Dourif), but as a device with advanced artificial intelligence, designed to link with other toys as well as every electronic device in the Barclay household. The story is no longer supernatural horror, but has morphed into nuts-and-bolts science-fiction.

I like the new approach less, though it’s valid dramatically, as this Chucky irrevocably bonds with his Andy, taking what it sees as logical steps to protect and/or avenge his beloved owner as necessary. That kind of obsession generally ends one way. Yet, there’s no suspense, no horror in waiting for someone to see Chucky actually move or hear him speak. They expect it. If he doesn’t move and talk, they’ll return him to the Walmart-like store where Karen got him.

The film also emulates its ’80s progenitor in the sense that it’s a cheap, B-grade movie that doesn’t really care how ridiculous it gets. If you’re looking for a nostalgic throwback to those films of yore like the original Child’s Play, Leprechaun and others, then this is your movie. I was looking for something more, but it’s hard to get it from a $10 million movie when the original cost $9 million 30 years ago.

But it’s not the money. As cheesy as the 1988 original may be, I liked Catherine Hicks as Karen and Chris Sarandon as skeptical detective Mike Norris better than I like Plaza or Brian Tyree Henry in the respective roles, and Bateman is too whiny as Andy. I expected to care more about Plaza after her ghoulishly funny turn in 2014’s Life After Beth, but you know a movie’s in trouble when two incidental characters steal the movie from the lead actors. Beatrice Kitsos and Ty Consiglio, as Andy’s juvenile pals, walk away with every scene they’re in. I’d have rather seen the movie from their point of view than that of Andy and his mom.

See it if you must. The best aspect is composer Bear McCreary’s inventive music over the end titles, during which Hamill sings the fiendish theme “Buddi’s Song,” the creepiest thing I’ve heard all year. Hamill’s rendition practically shrieks, “I’m Charles Lee Ray.” Maybe he should have been.  

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