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Star Kid
(1998)
 

Director: Manny Coto      
Cast:
Joseph Mazzello, Richard Gilliland, Corinne Boher


Remembering that this movie only got a quick release in theaters, and it being a kiddie movie, I was initially hesitant in renting this. But I couldn't find anything else "unknown" in the new release section, so I reluctantly rented it.

My fears were unwarranted; Star Kid is indeed a kiddie movie, but done with enough style, pace, and intelligence that even parents forced to watch it with their kids will find it adequate. A smattering of genuine wit that doesn't insult the intelligence of a viewer of any age is the frosting on the cake. The only reason why I think the movie didn't do better is because of the bland title. Why didn't they keep the movie's original title, The Warrior of Waverly Street (which still appears in the closing credits)?

In a present present time ago...in a galaxy far far away not counting technology enabling travel to be faster that the speed of light, invading aliens (Broodwarriors) attack the home planet of the Trelkins, aliens that look like a cross between Yoda and E.T.. In an impressive looking battle scene, the Trelkins get bloodlessly slaughtered by the invaders (adults can secretly picture the Trelkins as Ewoks). With the invaders at their doors, Trelkin scientists place their new prototype combat-enhancement suit in a rocket, and blast it away from the invaders' reach.

Meanwhile, on Earth, we meet Spencer, a boy who has a lot of problems. His father is too busy to spend any time with him, his big sister Stacey expresses standard big-sister hostility to him, and the school bully "Turbo" has sighted him for prolonged harassment. Worst of all, he has a crush on Michelle, a girl in his class who shares his love of comic books, but he's too scared to talk with her. In a scene which will get a chuckle out of adults, Spencer's teacher gives him some advice which is obviously the lesson of the movie: "If you run away from the things you're scared of, it doesn't get any easier." Not very subtle, though any kid can tell you that running away might just be less scary than (gulp) talking to someone of the opposite sex.

That night, looking out his window, Spencer sees the rocket crash into a nearby junkyard, and immediately runs over to see what landed. Arriving, he finds the suit, and is amazed when "Cy" (his nickname for the suit) speaks a request for "biotic host" to enter the suit. "Oh well, my life can't get any worse," reasons Spencer, and enters the suit. Initially freaked out and disoriented by the confining and awkward suit, his feeling turn for the better when the suit happens to mention that it's combat-enhanced. Overjoyed by his new powers, Spencer then spends the required next few minutes performing amazing acrobats in the junkyard, then going to Turbo's house to exact gleeful revenge. I ask you now: what kid couldn't resist the premise of this movie?

Not everything is perfect. Cy takes everything Spencer says literally, including cooling the interior of the suit when Spencer exclaims "Cool!" and trying to climb in a refrigerator when a hungry Spencer says he wants to "look around in it". And Cy clearly doesn't understand all of humanity; when Spencer spies on Michelle at a carnival, Cy states, "Biotic host seeks to mate with female Michelle." ("Mate?!? I just want to talk with her!"). The situation isn't helped when Cy sees someone in a Barney-like costume, calculates it's an enemy invader and starts firing. And to further complicate matters, a Broodwarrior lands nearby, seeking to reclaim the suit. Spencer's immediate reaction after encountering the Broodwarrior and narrowly getting away is to abandon Cy, but then realizes the mistake he's made leading to a fairly expected ending, though Turbo is thrown into this sequence in an unexpected development.

What really saves this movie from mediocrity is the characters and the dialogue. Yes, the special effects and action are also good, but they alone would just be a hollow shell without a heart. Spencer is a smart kid - no Einstein, but his actions in every situation are believable and show intelligence. Most importantly, he's portrayed as a kid - not an adult in a child's body. Coto (who wrote and directed) clearly remembered what it's like being a kid, and how they act. And not just Spencer - the actions of other children portrayed in the movie are realistic, even Turbo's. (We get hints midway through the movie pointing why he grew into a bully.) And even Cy is believable; though he clearly has some artificial intelligence, he is more computer than human, leading quite logically to the mistakes he makes. The dialogue between him and Spencer is frequently priceless, with Spencer racking his brains to figure out how to communicate properly, and Cy never quite understanding what Spencer asks of him. How do you tell a computer that you need to urinate - in computer talk?

I've heard that they are making a sequel to this movie. If this is true, I sincerely wish that they'll remember to put the emphasis on characters and dialogue once again. Kids and adults may see constant no-brainer special-effects movies, but it's the movies that also have likable characters and smart dialogue that will bring them back to a movie more than once.

Also reviewed at: Cold Fusion Video

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See also: Secret Agent Club, Earthbound, Theodore Rex

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