A baby in danger isn't funny, nor is 'Baby's Day Out'

July 01, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

The best part in "Baby's Day Out" is when they kill the baby.

It gets hit by a truck -- here's the funny part -- full of plastic diapers. Splat, dead baby, diapers all over the road! It's a pretty darn goofy laffriot.

No, of course they don't kill the baby, but I wish they'd killed the producer or at least slapped him around a little bit. "Baby's Day Out" is another from the exceedingly popular, exceedingly bankrupt movie mill of John Hughes, who once was a serious chronicler of teen angst ("Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club"). Having gotten a taste of big money off "Home Alone," he has become a purveyor of slime for profit. Who said, "What profiteth a man to gain the whole world if he lose his soul"? He sure didn't work in Hollywood.

In "Home Alone," Hughes stumbled on a formula that has made him richer than the owner of Midas Mufflers and less creative than the average toilet seat. But never has he refined it so pristinely, distilled all impurities from it, reduced it to such primal simplicity as in "Baby's Day Out." The gimmick: He puts a child in desperate jeopardy, then plays it for laughs.

The genius of the idea is how complexly it plays with our emotions for very little investment of effort on the filmmaker's part. No actual characters or plots need be invented; the film proceeds at the comic book level, but also at the instinctive region of the brain. The threat of danger grips us and the whole sick thing goes tooting merrily along.

Of course, in "Home Alone," it was clear the two comical burglars meant to kill Macauley Culkin, but no one ever really faced that reality. In "Baby's Day Out," comical kidnappers steal a nine-month-old from his wealthy but moronic parents, and may have the same fate in mind for him, but the dadblame li'l critter keeps slipping out on them, crawling through traffic or up construction projects. It's the Lindbergh kidnapping as slapstick.

"Baby's Day Out," which Hughes wrote and produced (Patrick Read Johnson is the director of record), has no characters, no plot, no dramatic arc and one joke repeated ad nauseam. That's that little Bink, played by blond twins Adam and Jacob Worton, leads a charmed life. (How does the quote go, "God looks after drunks, babies and the United States of America"? Add John Hughes to that list.) The three schmos who've lifted him keep self-destructing in comical ways as they attempt to recapture him.

This leads to elaborately choreographed, nearly silent-movie set-pieces in which all laws of cause and effect are suspended and the universe conspires to prevent Baby Bink from even shedding a tear or bruising a knuckle. Meanwhile, the three thugs -- Joe Mantegna, Joe Pantoliano and Brian Haley -- slip, fall, bounce, drop, stumble through dance-like sequences of self-inflicted trauma and the world around them neatly deconstructs.

A little of this goes nowhere; a lot of it is positively maddening.

(Editor's Note: No actual babies were damaged during the writing of this review.)

"Baby's Day Out"

Starring Joe Montegna

Directed by Patrick Read Johnson

Released by Twentieth Century Fox

PG-rated

*

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