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No Dessert Dad, Til You Mow The Lawn
(1994)

Director: Howard McCain  
Cast:
Robert Hayes, Joanna Kerns, Richard Moll


When I was a child, I guess that in many ways I had it pretty good. I had two parents who were married to each other and living under the same roof, and both of them would listen to me whenever I had a problem and would try to help me. I also got three square meals a day, had my own room, and I was pretty much free to rent and watch on the living room TV any schlocky movie that struck my fancy. Yes, I was pretty lucky in many ways when compared to a lot of other kids in the world. That's not to say that every moment in every day at home was sunshine and rainbows. On a regular basis, my parents would make me do stuff that would drive me crazy or darken my mood. The way that they did that the most was with chores. I remember one day when my father came home from work, he greeted me with the announcement, "I've got you a job!" Seems a co-worker of my father needed his lawn mowed once a week all during the summer, and my father said that I would be happy to do it. Needless to say, I wasn't happy hearing this news, especially since I was already stuck mowing the lawn once a week for my parents' property. It just wasn't lawn mowing I had to do - I had to do other stuff, like wash the dishes after a family meal, sweep a room, or shovel snow off the driveway during the winter. How I disliked at the time doing things like that! But now that I am much older, and living on my own, I now feel fortunate that I had to do those things. Doing all that work prepared me for the adult world, where I would have to work in order to make a living for myself. And though all the work I have done at my jobs has been hard at times, I know it's much better than having to mow a lawn.

You may be wondering why I spent the entire first paragraph telling you all that stuff about my childhood and the work ethic that formed in me as a consequence. Well, one reason, an obvious one, is that I need some subject to talk about to start this review. But there's another reason, and that reason is to give you some understanding as to why I disliked the movie No Dessert Dad, Til You Mow The Lawn so much. Wait, "disliked" is not a strong enough word - I hated this movie a lot. Wait, "hated" is not strong enough - I loathed this movie as much as you can imagine. I not only loathed the movie because of its content, but because this loathsome content in this Roger Corman production was aimed at a very impressionable audience - children. "What?" you are probably saying, "A Roger Corman production that is not aimed at his usual B-movie audience, but is instead a family movie?" Yes, it is true. And No Dessert Dad, Til You Mow The Lawn is not the only family movie Corman has made in his career - if you look at his filmography, you will see he has made and/or distributed the occasional family movie, such as Revenge Of The Red Baron with a pre-fame Tobey Maguire. You may be wondering why someone who is such an expert in delivering R-rated product would get involved in making something for the pre-pubescent crowd. I have a few theories. One of those theories is that kids are usually more forgiving of movies with skinflint budgets - something Corman has given almost all of his movies. But the most plausible theory is that with the rise of the home video market came a demand for family film product. With other independent filmmakers striking gold here, such as Charles Band, Corman probably saw that a few bucks could be generated by dipping his toe into the demand as well.

Whatever the reasons why Corman decided to make No Dessert Dad, Til You Mow The Lawn, it doesn't excuse the fact that the end results are appalling,  reprehensible, and deeply offensive. It's one of the most unpleasant cinematic experiences I have ever had a chance to watch. No Dessert, Dad, Till You Mow The LawnI'm going to now describe the movie's plot for the rest of this paragraph, and I want you to see if you can get some idea of what makes this movie so despicable before you get to the end of this paragraph. The movie concerns the Cochran family, consisting of parents Ken (Hayes, Airplane!) and Carol (Kerns, Growing Pains), and their three children Justin (Joshua Schaefer), Monica (Allison Mack, Smallville), and Tyler (James Marsden, X-Men.) Young Justin and his sister Monica feel they are having it rough - their older brother Tyler is an absolute tyrant that makes their lives miserable, for one thing. But Justin and Monica also feel that they are being neglected by their parents. Justin wants his father, who happens to be a former baseball player, to help coach his little league team, but Ken is stuck in fourteen hour days at the software company he works for. And both Justin and Monica have to do (yikes!) chores. Anyway, one day Ken and Carol find out that the cure for their smoking habit may come with listening to special tapes that hypnotize them, which they start listening to on a regular basis. It does not take Justin and Monica long to discover that they can plant their own hypnotic suggestions on the tapes - which can manipulate their parents to give them whatever they want. Soon Justin and Monica are having their parents do all their chores for them, as well as getting everything they wanted from Mom and Dad, from big screen televisions to trips on hot air balloons.

That plot description is kind of brief, I know. But I still think it's long enough to give you some idea about how utterly wrong and irresponsible this plot premise is. As I said earlier, it's just made worse by the fact that this premise is aimed at children. I don't know about you, but I find the idea of people's minds being manipulated a very troubling one. Oh, I suppose it could work with different characters in a different story, like a supervillain hypnotizing people to do his dirty work. But here, it's CHILDREN hypnotizing their PARENTS for personal gain. To me, this is an unspeakable violation. In fact, it's possible one might compare it to the crime of rape. This idea is also reprehensible for another reason. It subtly tells children in the audience, "If you do not agree with what your parents do or say, you shouldn't try the act of persuasion or try to see things from their point of view - you should instead manipulate their minds against their will." Oh, the movie tries to convince the audience in several ways that what these two children do is somehow okay. Studying his parents' hypnosis manual, Justin reads a blurb that states people who do things under hypnosis are just doing what their subconscious wants them to do. Also, Justin and his sister use the hypnosis at one point to give their homemaker mother the courage to go out and apply for and get a job in accounting like the one she had before she quit the workforce to have children. But none of this convinced me in the least that what the kids were doing was moral or necessary. I think that even if I had seen this movie as a kid, I would have felt that what the two children were doing was simply wrong.

It's bad enough that No Dessert Dad, Til You Mow The Lawn has such a reprehensible viewpoint on how children should deal with their parents - it's enough to make this an extremely bad movie - but the movie has a lot more problems that make it one of the toughest viewing experiences I've had in a long time. The movie has a lot of other material that, despite its family friendly packaging, make it even more inappropriate for younger viewers. Young Monica watches another Roger Corman production on TV - Carnosaur, to be exact, watching a bloody clip when one of the movie's dinosaurs takes a big bite out of a human. Later, a cherry bomb is thrown into a porta-potty by one of the kids, making big explosion that visibly spreads feces everywhere. These kids are a real unlikable bunch, not just for that. When his older brother Tyler won't let Justin into their bedroom, Justin accuses his brother with subtle language that he must be masturbating behind the closed door. Later, Tyler tries to break into his sister's bath after being given a milkshake with an ingredient he's allergic to, Monica subsequently tells her parents, "He tried to see me naked!", which gets Tyler to respond with, "Oh, like, there's something to see!" Tyler, by the way, is an extremely cruel brother to his siblings, enough that you have to wonder why the two parents have tolerated him so much up to this point. For example, later in the movie, he ties up Justin and Monica when the two parents are away, and threatens to kill Monica's kitten. He doesn't kill the kitten, but he does take a piece of cat s*it out of the litterbox and mash it into the new Air Jordan shoes that Justin recently acquired from his parents.

All three of the Cochran children are insufferable characters, but perhaps the most badly constructed characters in the movie are the kids' parents. Although they are supposedly acting on their subconscious when they are hypnotised, I doubt the mother ever wanted to take a big bite out of a raw onion, nor that the father ever wanted to wear a tutu and do an impromptu ballet in his living room, the two activities the kids get their parents to do when they are testing the power of their hypnosis. But even when the parents are not under hypnosis, they are not compelling or believable in any way. The father is a wimp who has no backbone, and the mother gets so little time devoted to her that her biggest moment is telling her young daughter she'll get her a black lace bra "...when you have something to put it in." You are probably wondering if the parents eventually find out that they have been hypnotized by their children. Thank goodness, they do, but their reaction to it (right after the mother has been in a car accident due to the hypnosis, and the father fired from his job also as a hypnosis consequence) may be the most offensive thing about the movie. The father, who has just seen his wife in a hospital bed, reacts by getting mad... for several seconds. Then he gives Justin and Monica a short lecture ("Your mother and I raised you the best way we could..."), and a few seconds later everyone is teary-eyed, hugging each other, and all is forgiven. The second most offensive moment of the movie happens in the next scene, when the father, packing up his stuff at his former workplace, has to take cover with Justin when his former boss goes crazy and starts shooting up the workplace with an assault rifle. As the bullets started flying, I wondered just what audience Roger Corman though this entire movie was appropriate for. If he thinks this is "family entertainment", I can only wonder how his own kids turned out to be upon reaching adulthood.

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See also: King Kung Fu, Secret Agent Club, Star Kid

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