'Power Rangers' is harmless if stupid

June 30, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" is less a movie than a 90-minute infomercial for Mighty Morphin Power Ranger toys and other registered products. They should pay you to see it, not the other way around, and take the profit at the back end of the deal.

Derived from the controversially violent Saturday morning television show beloved of kids and beloathed by adults, the film will be, no surprise, beloved by children and beloathed by adults. And it's part of the genius of the scam that each new vehicle, each new villain, each new Power Ranger outfit can be found at your neighborhood mall.

One supposes that children will be amused by the fantasy of empowerment that the film represents, in which a squad of otherwise quite banal teen-agers is secretly the warrior elite commando kings of the world, as "powered" by an odd mountaintop installation where an ancient space traveler has set up shop with a mushroom-headed robot who keeps saying "Aye-yi-yi-yi-yi."

But the true "power" of the film -- and of Power Rangers -- is the power of popular culture. It is from this energetic torrent that director Bryan Spicer loots assiduously. His favorite source is "Wizard of Oz", so at least it can be said he cares enough to steal from the very best. Other sources, however, are lower in the mass-cult food chain; one of them appears to be the covers of "Conan the Barbarian" paperbacks.

It's all pretty harmless. There's plenty of vapid, weightless violence, but there's no sex. Even when, on a far-off world, the Power Ranger savior is a babe in a bikini, none of the male Rangers can be counted on to make a smutty comment. Talk about being hormonally challenged!

The five kids are almost without a shred of personality. Even the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles, masked and buried under 40 pounds of turtle rubber, had some whisper of actual existence. By contrast, the five Rangers appear to have been machined out of Tupperware or possibly Nylon. My favorite was Rocky the Red Ranger, played by Steve Cardenas, an Idaho State Champion cheerleader. Rocky is so dull of face and void of uniqueness that he could have been played by a coma victim. His face never changes expression once, a bit of a problem when his single look seems to communicate the utter lassitude of a kid in math class who has no idea what's going on.

As a unit, in fact, the Power Rangers quickly grow irritating. Primarily a martial arts team, their every movement is syncopated and amplified sound effects (Whisssssshhhhhhhh!) accompany even the most meaningless of motions. None of the fight scenes convince, and none of the kids looks anything near tough.

Only Paul Freeman, under enough latex to start his own brassiere factory, appears to be having fun. Freeman, a dapper character actor (he was in "Raiders of the Lost Ark") plays ace villain Ivan Ooze, who sets the plot in motion by reawakening from a 6,000-year slumber and resuming his campaign to enslave (ZZ-ZZZZ) the world.

The final battle takes place inside a computer, as various big, silly machines hack at each other. The computer morphing has gotten very sophisticated but remains cold and unconvincing. You know you're looking at something that doesn't exist; it's difficult to get excited at sheer phony spectacle. That's what happens when becomes more important than story and character.

"Mighty Morphin Power Rangers"

Starring Karan Ashley, Johnny Yong Bosch, Steve Cardenas, Jason David Frank, Amy Jo Johnson and David Yost

Directed by Bryan Spicer

Released by Twentieth-Century Fox

Rated PG (lots of pretend violence, however)


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