Christina Applegate shines as comedienne in 'Babysitter'

June 07, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

'Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead'

Starring Christina Applegate and Joanna Cassidy.

Directed by Stephen Herek

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated PG-13.

** 1/2

"Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead" is both a swindle and a surprise. It's a swindle in that the highly advertised premise -- wild kids and a dead baby sitter -- is dispensed with in maybe seven minutes, after which it becomes our old friend from the '80s, the switch-role comedy.

And here's the surprise: In this later incarnation, it's not exactly good but it's less bad than you might think, primarily because Christina Applegate, the space-head teen queen from "Married . . . with Children," proves herself an accomplished light comedienne and she's ably assisted by the un-dislikable Joanna Cassidy and the ever-smarmy John Getz.

Applegate plays the oldest sister in a brood of unruly, self-indulgent California kids who have driven their poor divorced mother halfway to distraction and all the way to Australia, at least for the summer.

But the anticipated season of freedom is taken away when the baby sitter arrives, a sort of psychopathic Clara Peltzer-type who knows where the beef is; it's wherever she is. Happily for everybody involved, the baby sitter soon dies. Alas, in disposing of her body, the children also dispose of the money mom had left.

Thus it is that Applegate, as the oldest, is faced with that most distressing of adult responsibilities: She must become her mother, complete to getting a job.

The script has some difficulty in coming up with continuously interesting obstacles for her to overcome and a subsidiary romance with young Josh Charles, the Baltimore actor now relocated to Los Angeles, isn't exactly the movie's strongest card. But when the machinations of career, deception, responsibility and romantic yearning are clinking along in highest gear, the movie's at its most agreeable.

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