When it opened in 1989 -- the same week as Batman -- I was delighted by Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and its Lilliputian adventure set in a suburban back yard teeming with giant blades of grass, ants, puddles, bumblebees, and scorpions. "An adventure yarn in the tradition of Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace," I concluded. Three years later, I confess that this diminutive children's film has lost none of its charm, for two reasons: First, the young performers were utterly winning on their own terms; not, as is so often the case in John Hughes- or Steven Spielberg-style teenpics, at the expense of coarsely drawn adults. And of course the special effects worked their own unique kind of magic. The ride on a bumblebee through grapefruit-size pollen, the four kids hopping on the back of an ant, the rain-induced mudslides, were sequences designed to raise your pulse without corrupting your head.
While Walt Disney Pictures delivered on that one, the current sequel, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, has all the satirical punch and insouciant flair of a sack of Idahos. Most of the key members of the original cast -- Rick Moranis as geekazoid innovator Wayne Szalinski, Marcia Strassman as his earth-mother wife, and Robert Oliveri and Amy O'Neill as the game offspring -- make a return visit. But this time the Thompsons, their irksome WASP neighbors, have been written out, and the action has been moved from Californian suburbia to a Nevada facsimile outside Las Vegas. Bad move.
Oh yes, and there's a new member of the clan. His name is Adam (played by identical twins, Daniel and Joshua Shalikar). He's two and a half years old, and as cuddly as a Boeing 747. When Wayne mistakenly zaps him with his ersatz molecule-enlargement contraption, the toddler balloons up to ceiling level, and flees his crib. The clincher comes when Adam, who continues to grow whenever he's exposed to electric circuits, first reaches 56 feet, then, after touching a high-tension wire, shoots up to 112 feet. Meanwhile, Wayne's pernicious boss at Sterling Laboratories, Hendrikson (John Shea), aims to stop Adam from reaching Las Vegas and its neon phantasmagoria by shooting tranquilizing pellets from a chopper. Wayne elicits the help of the elderly but spry company chairman, Clifford Sterling (Lloyd Bridges), to cajole Adam to submission and zap him back to size.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was directed by Joe Johnson, whose previous credits would not have suggested such an accomplished filmmaker. This sequel, on the other hand, has Randal Kleiser as director, and his cinematic resume gives too many clues as to the excremental quality of his work, starting with the abominable musical, Grease, the adolescent misadventure, The Blue Lagoon, on to Grandview U.S.A. and Big Top Pee-wee, and finally ending with one decent film (also for Disney), an adaption of Jack London's White Fang. But the hack director isn't the only culprit. Besides the slow-footed camerawork and leaden editing of Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, the writers' idea to use Las Vegas as a backdrop works as well as Dan O'Brien's high-vault attempts in New Orleans.
As for the acting, Rick Moranis's scientific shlemiel has outworn his welcome; so too has Robert Oliveri as his junior-division dweeb of a son. Marcia Strassman appears to have lightened her locks and tightened her face since Fresno, no doubt artificially; her acting betrays its daytime-soap origins with every winsome smile. The best-looking and least offensive character of the whole unhappy lot is Lloyd Bridges, a staggering 80 years old this year, who sleepwalks magnificently through this caper without so much as breaking a sweat. But that's the economy of a pro.
And on the matter of economy, finally, I shall restrict my comments regarding Atom Egoyan's black comedy The Adjuster to two words and my advice to three:
Don't see it.
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HONEY, I BLEW UP THE KID
Directed by Randal Kleiser; written by Thom Eberhardt, Peter Elbling, and Garry Goodrow; with Rick Moranis, Marcia Strassman, Robert Oliveri, Lloyd Bridges, John Shea, and Daniel and Joshua Shalikar.
Written and directed by Atom Egoyan; with Elias Koteas, Arnisee Khanyjian, Maury Chaikin, and Gabrielle Rose.
Opens Friday at the Alliance Film/Video Project.