Friday, June 5, 2009

The Arnold Project #15: Kindergarten Cop

It's not a tumor, but Kindergarten Cop began one of many attempts Arnie made to soften his action star image. We already saw the one-joke Junior, and here we get a fish out of water treatment putting the Terminator in charge of a bunch of 5 year olds. Who destroy him faster than Sarah Connor ever could. 19 years later it still holds up, but has a lot of fat that could have been trimmed.
The story centers on that Hollywood cliche of a grizzled undercover cop, John Kimble, who doesn't like partners and works alone. He's also so obsessed on getting bad guys that his family life has disintegrated so much that we never even see his estranged wife and son. He finally nabs drug lord Cullen "cookie" Crisp, a pony-tailed uber-douche with a domineering mom (Carroll Baker, infamous for playing Baby Doll back in the '50s), but his junkie witness isn't enough to satisfy the D.A. The only solution, the plot suggests, is for them to hunt down the drug kingpin's own estranged wife and son, who supposedly fled with $3 million.

The cops have a clue that her kid goes to a private school in Oregon, so they send Detective Phoebe O'Hara (Pamela Reed, also in Junior) to pose as a Kindergarten teacher so she can investigate, with Kimble there as backup. But instead she eats too much at a buffet and gets food poisoning, so Arnie has to cover for her. By now it's so contrived that I wish they'd made it even goofier, like Jackie Chan goofy. Why bother with all the coincidences? It takes us good while before tough guy Kimble is before the classroom, but it's worth it.
Arnie's gift for comedy under the right hands is almost as good here as in True Lies, and Ivan Reitman manages to make him ignore W.C. Field's warning about never working with animals or children to great success. Kimble also has a pet ferret. Despite these classic saboteurs, Arnie's considerable presence manages to keep him the center of the laughs, even against a little kid whose Dad is a gynecologist, and constantly recites "boys have a penis! girls have a vagina!"
The meat of the film is watching Arnold play a tough guy who's used to bashing heads to get his way deal with a gaggle of chaotic little kindergarteners with no attention spans. He loses it almost immediately, and has a classroom full of bawling children. But the ferret saves the day. He's under the close eye of Principal Schlowski (now there's a '90s made-up movie name if I ever heard one) played by the inimitable Linda Hunt from The Year of Living Dangerously and Silverado. I'm sure part of the reason she was chosen was that she's 4'9" and her bulldog tenacity could make a fitting foil for Arnold. And it works. She's always good, and gets just the right note here. We know she has the children's interests at heart and isn't just there for tension.

Soon Kimble is running the class like a drill instructor, getting the kids to play and clean up at the toot of a whistle, and even fall asleep when he reads them stories. All the while he plays sneaky games like ”Who is my daddy and what does he do?" to identify the kid, and therefore the mother. But it's pretty obvious that the best child actor will be the kid, and the cutest mom will be the mom. This is Hollywood after all. And of course, Evil Dad has to show up to try to get his son back.
While I usually never eschew violence in a movie, I think this one would have been better if it was less bloody. We get to see the junkie witness O.D. thanks to the mobster's evil mom, a school set on fire and shootings. Now i don't think Columbine et al means we can't have violence set in schools, but the film's tone varies a lot thanks to this. Now, we all love the catharsis of watching abusive husbands and evil matrons get what's coming to them, but I wanted more of Arnold's classroom antics than action. If this was Arnie's first post-action star comedy I could see him taking baby steps, but I liked Twins in 1988, and think that proved he could hack it.
Kindergarten Cop feels a bit too long (it's nearly 2 hours) and a little dated nowadays, but it is still very entertaining, and one of Arnold's classic roles. Everyone remembers "it's not a tumah!" but there are plenty of hilarious scenes as the kids test his mettle. It was a bit tedious at times, but this would still make a nice movie for a weekend afternoon. And compared other comedies from the same era it's definitely one of the better ones.

Rating: It's NOT a tumah!
All the entries in The Arnold Project

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