NOTE: I am still on my spiritual journey in the American South, so I won’t be able to continue the STAR WARS series until the middle of next week. To hold you over until then I’m afraid all I have is a quick look at STAR KID.
Richard Stark is one of the greatest writers in the history of badass crime fiction. His Parker novels are sleek, deeply satisfying classics of the form and have also inspired a few great movies. But what if I were to tell you that Richard Stark’s name wasn’t Richard Stark at all? STARK I.D. is the story of one man’s obsession with uncovering the true identity behind the name. He looked it up on Google and it was Donald Westlake, I’m surprised he didn’t already know that because it’s on the cover of some of the books it’s not like they were hiding it from anybody, it’s pretty widely known and discussed. And also now that I think about it this movie is actually called STAR KID, I don’t know what I was thinking man I need to get more sleep I think.
I don’t think you can say STAR KID is a forgotten kiddy wish fullfillment sci-fi fantasy of the ’90s. More like an ignored one. And that’s fair. The subject matter seems inspired by ’80s kids and aliens movies of the Amblin and fake-Amblin variety, like E.T., FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR, EXPLORES and MAC & ME, but it came out in 1997, fer chrissakes. The successful sci-fi movies of that year were THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK, MEN IN BLACK, THE FIFTH ELEMENT and the STAR WARS special editions. The good reviews went to GATTACA. It was too early for STARSHIP TROOPERS and too late for this shit.
Joseph Mazzello (the kid from the first JURASSIC PARK) plays Spencer, the put-upon weiner of a hero. In an attempt to appeal to a specific audience, Spencer’s defining quality is that he loves escaping into comic books. His room is decked out with Marvel super hero models, but the book he’s obsessed with is some made up bullshit called Mid-Knight Warrior.
When we meet him Spencer is in the middle of being pushed around and humiliated at school by a chubby, backwards-baseball-hat-wearing bully called Turbo (Joey Simmrin, SUBURBAN COMMANDO, LITTLE GIANTS). It’s a big event with the entire school gathered to watch, but you get the feeling this is not the first time. This is his life.
He doesn’t know how to have anything better. He has a crush on a girl (Lauren Eckstrom) but is afraid to talk to her, even though she seems open to it.
Rather than go the Troubled-By-Divorce route established by E.T. this one follows the old classic Haunted-By-Death-of-Parent. But it’s gotta be sweet so they have a caring female teacher (Corrine Bohrer, ZAPPED, POLICE ACADEMY 4, REVENGE OF THE NERDS IV, Veronica Mars) to break up fights, notice that he’s distant in class, suspect what he’s going through, and try to do what she can to help him out. Basically, to plug the mother hole.
Then, as all children dream, he happens to be outside when he alone sees a space craft crash land nearby. Inside he finds what looks like an alien robot, but it can’t move because it’s actually a battle suit, or “Cyborsuit” according to the credits. It’s alive, it can talk, but it needs somebody inside it. So it presents itself to the boy…
No no, don’t worry, it’s not what it looks like. He just opens up and extends a ramp so Spencer can climb inside…
…and then alot of the movie involves him talking with the inside of the suit’s face.
He finds that in the suit he can run around scaring people, have super strength, occasionally jump high (he doesn’t use that as much as you’d think). He can also turn his hands into guns that shoot beams and stuff like that. The suit sometimes tries to do that against his wishes, assuming various people are enemies, but he mostly keeps it under control.
It’s a little like T2 and like the following year’s Vin Diesel picture THE IRON GIANT because it’s about a boy who becomes friends with a powerful sentient weapon from space or the future and tries to teach it not to fuckin blow holes through everybody and destroy the city and shit like it wants to. But it doesn’t really deal as much with the machine coming to terms with the morality of being designed for death and destruction. This thing seems more interested in following its programming to win a war against a foreign race (on behalf of the friendly little people aliens who built it) than on learning how to love.
With space power comes space responsibility, but fuck that, Spencer wants to get revenge on that fat piece of shit who embarrassed him in front of Michelle Eberhardt and the whole school and ruined his life forever and spit on his Mid-Knight Warrior comic. He tracks Turbo down sitting in a car in his dad’s repair shop, picks up the car and spins it around really fast. The music tells us it’s supposed to be a fun prank, but it seems on the verge of being deadly. Alot of these scenes could be easily reworked into a slasher movie.
He has lots of adventures in the suit, for example he has to pee really bad, he tries to talk to his teacher at her house (inappropriate), and there’s an alien monster on the planet that he has to track down and kill like the good cop in I COME IN PEACE. You must taste space blood to become a space man. Also Turbo becomes his friend for some reason and the girl turns out to read Mid-Knight Warrior also, which is the ultimate unattainable dream for a nerd boy of 1997.
The guy inside the suit is a prolific stuntman named Alex Daniels. He did stunts for the RUSH HOUR movies, LETHAL WEAPON 4, the new GODZILLA, all kinds of shit. He was a stunt driver on DHOOM 3. He coordinated the naked fight in BORAT. He played “Marshall Strat” in CYBORG. He directed something called M.V.P., but to my disappointment it’s a dramatic short about a grieving father, not the skateboarding monkey movie. It would be cool if he only ever directed one movie and it was MOST VALUABLE PRIMATE. That would be an interesting thing to have on your resume.
The good thing about the movie is the effects. We’re a few years into the age of mostly-digital-effects here, but other than some primitive morphing it seems to be almost all animatronics and puppets and models and shit. The good shit. Most of the creature effects seem to be done by a company called Criswell Productions, with some help from Burman Studios. John Criswell has done puppet and animatronics work on everything from GARBAGE PAIL KIDS to GHOULIES II and III to various Muppet projects to THE COUNTRY BEARS to WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, so he knows what he’s doing. And I noticed Screaming Mad George (director of another symbiotic-battle-suit-from-space movie, GUYVER) did some matte painting and models for a spacecraft called the “Broodwarrior ship.”
The bad thing is most everything else. I mean, this would be a pretty cool movie for an undiscerning young boy who needs this kind of fantasy in his life, but it’s all broad cliches and no real life observation. It doesn’t have what it takes to do much more than momentarily captivate its primary demographic before they learn to appreciate boobs.
Writer/director Manny Coto is the guy that did DR. GIGGLES and the post-PUNISHER Dolph Lundgren/Louis Gossett Jr. re-team COVER-UP. These days he’s in television, having been a writer/producer on one season of Dexter, many seasons of 24 and also The 1/2 Hour News Hour, Fox News’s infamous attempt at a right wing version of The Daily Show that makes the fake comedy sketches from Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip seem hilarious by comparison.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.