[27 August 2004]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Given the absolute dreckiness of Baby Geniuses, not to mention the critical drubbing it received, you might wonder why Bob Clark has made a second installment, five years later. And you may still wonder, even after watching the sequel, as it only reinforces what you already know: today’s so-called “family entertainment” will go to pathetic exploitative depths to make a buck.
That said, SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2 is surprisingly cynical, as it incorporates this very theme into its narrative. The villain is a Nazi (somehow alive and kicking in East Berlin 1962) who remakes himself into a U.S. media mogul, plotting “world domination” by way of a mind control device sent through a kids’ show on cable television (this program features a goofy, Barney-reminiscent frog in a top hat, played by Alfonso Quijada, singing nonsense and annoying adults, as a “data stream” insinuates itself into kiddies’ brains, and they are inclined to buy the Nazi-turned-mogul’s merchandise). The collapse of fascism and corporate greed is hardly a new idea, but the extreme stereotyping makes it feel even older. Worse, he’s played by Jon Voight, who surely must have something better to do with his time.
The film begins as the titular babies—Archie (Michael and Max Iles), Quentin Finkleman (Jordan and Jared Scheiderman), Alex (Joshua and Maxwell Lockhart) and Rosita (Maia and Keana Bastidas)—entertain themselves at an upscale L.A. daycare center run by the Bobbins, Jean (Vanessa Angel) and Stan (Scott Baio) (Stan makes a passing reference to his brother Dan [Peter MacNicol], star of the first movie, now appearing only as a snapshot framed on Stan’s desk). Stan is determined to improve profits by partnering with Bill Biscane (Voight), who has a very dark history, revealed almost as soon as his name is dropped in a story that Archie tells his peers (as in the first film, the babies talk to one another, and adults don’t get it, though Jean keeps insisting that they are “communicating” while Stan calls his charges “test marketing subjects”).
Archie’s story sets up the film’s primary opposition, between Biscane (called Captain Kane back in “East Berlin, 1962”) and Kahuna (played by the stars of “Baby Geniuses,” triplets Gerry, Leo, and Myles Fitzgerald), eternally seven years old and possessed of mighty superpowers. His apparently legendary first encounter with Kane/Biscane takes the form of a “great escape,” complete with a score lifted from Elmer Bernstein, or perhaps “Hogan’s Heroes.” Breaking into an orphanage run by Kane, Kahuna “busts out” the children who thank him with smiles and hugs, as he turns to face down Kane’s jackbooted security detail. The fight is a rout, the child besting his elders easily and slapstickily, going so far as to nyuck-nyuck one uniformed assailant, slapping his face and poking his eyes.
The babies listening to the story appreciate the entertainment, but don’t believe in Kahuna the way Archie does. But when the daycare center is invaded by Biscane’s minions—all dressed in black and wearing slick communication headsets—Kahuna shows up to prevent the mind-control plot, eventually engaging the babies in his mission, along with their primary babysitter, Kylie (Voight’s goddaughter Skyler Shaye).
This conflict is exacerbated when Biscane’s number one, Crowe (Peter Wingfield), accidentally drops a crucial disk into the babies’ stroller. This initiates repeated chase and fight scenes, Kahuna outsmarting the villains at every turn, with the help of an array of gadgets, a vehicle that transforms from a car to a helicopter, and a hidden headquarters beneath the “Hollywood” sign. Here Kahuna meditates on a floating rug and communicates with his comrade-in-good-deeds Whoopi Goldberg (she appears on screen, discussing the Thai children they’ve helped to graduate from Yale), the babies are treated to holographic images (including an elephant, bear, and lion), and Kylie meets and develops a crush on Zack (Justin Chatwin), whom Kahuna rescued from an orphanage and who now serves him as loyal computer tech.
While Biscane and Crowe are upfront about their snidely ambitions, the film’s other adults become increasingly annoying: they’re so distracted by their Stan’s efforts to make money (and his partnership with Biscane) that they seem incapable of looking after their young charges. This is especially apparent when Kahuna calls them from his lair, using a holographic image of a policeman to make them believe the babies and Kylie are in good hands in San Diego (!). Kylie “walked too far” with the stroller, goes the lie, and then she and the babies accidentally boarded a bus to San Diego by accident. Stan and Jean, Archie’s parents as well as the other babies’ daytime guardians, accept this story without much question, agreeing to let the babies stay with the “policeman” overnight.
Even more disturbing, perhaps, is the complete omission of all other parents, who would, presumably, be “ethnic” (Finkelman being Jewish, Rosita Latina, and Alex black). Where are these adults when their toddlers are off gallivanting with bad guys and superheroes? Their absence makes the Bobbins’ daycare center look too much like the awful orphanages Kahuna so wants to restructure. With its feeble effects, cheesy set design, and shabby props (the door to Kahuna’s lair looks like it’s about to collapse each time it opens), SuperBabies is, on one level, so obviously incompetent that its lapses in plot and character seem rather par for its course.
Still, the film seems to want to espouse family unity and good parenting, or at least, the unhappy results of parentless children (Kahuna and the orphans are sad) and otherwise dysfunctional families. (This is especially visible when you discover that Biscane is related to one of the major characters, and so, is engineering all this chaos to get revenge.) With this ostensible “lesson” in mind, SuperBabies’ utter disregard for parents who might exist in a world resembling that of its audience is distractingly careless. Even if the digital baby lips are improved over Baby Geniuses, in every other way, the sequel is as unclever and unimaginative as its precursor.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/superbabies-2004/