This 'Blank Check' should be returned

February 11, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Blank Check"

Starring Brian Bonsall and Karen Duffy

Directed by Rupert Wainwright

Released by Disney

PG-rated

*

p,11p "Blank Check" appears to have been made from a script full of blank pages. It's dim, negligible, incredulous, a thorough piece of fluff.

This week's Macauley Culkin wannabe, Brian Bonsall, plays a powerless youngest son in a prosperous Midwestern household -- Dad is some sort of investment counselor -- who is consistently picked on not merely by two older brothers but by the world in general.

Named Preston Waters, the 11-year-old's diagnosis is revoltingly materialistic, though the movie offers it without attitude: He is a victim, he concludes, entirely because he doesn't have any money. Therefore -- again, irony on the part of the filmmakers is nowhere present in this representation -- he decides to get some money.

Laborious and absurd contrivances are manipulated so that he comes into possession of a blank check from an even more larcenous adult. Then, cheerfully felonious, he fills in the sum of $1 million and (the machinations are more complex than Soviet Politburo politics of the '30s) manages to convert it to cash. And then he goes on a shopping spree to end all shopping sprees.

That's the centerpiece of the movie, his complete and eager surrender to the spirit of pure avarice -- a new house, swimming pool, toys, video cameras, friends. It's sad.

There's also a subtext of tittering sexuality that's quite irritating. Preston develops a crush on a bank teller (Karen Duffy) and contrives to date her, with a clear sexual goal in mind. For entirely cynical reasons, she plays along, toying with him like a fish on a line. Worse, the director, Rupert Wainwright, appears to have a leg fetish, and shot after shot emphasizes Duffy's lower extremities as admired from the point of view of a kid who's still three years shy of noticing such things. And all of this, of course, is based on the boy's initial lie.

In fact, it should be noted with contempt that this is the second Disney movie in seven days that turns on a child telling an amazingly ambitious lie and never really having to answer for it, though last week's "My Father, the Hero" was technically released under the Touchstone aegis. But certainly it is indicative of the degree to which childhood's end is upon us that such plot "twists," unimaginable a year ago, now pass muster without so much as a raised eyebrow. It's especially sickening that each child's lie is eagerly forgiven with a hug and a kiss, and life proceeds merrily therefrom.

Anyway, back in the movie, Preston is stalked by the money's original thieves, Miguel Ferrer, Michael Lerner and Tone Loc, which leads to the inevitable and dreary climactic set-piece where Preston -- home alone, of course -- defends his household from the dizzy bad guys with a number of improbably imagined acrobatic gambits.

It's all dreary and banal but the saddest thing is revealed in the press notes: Wainwright, the director, actually went to Oxford University! That's why the sun set with a thud on the British empire!

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