Review: Small Soldiers (1998)

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Small Soldiers (1998)

Directed by: Joe Dante | 108 minutes | action, adventure | Actors: David Cross, Jay Mohr, Alexandra Wilson, Denis Leary, Gregory Smith, Dick Miller, Kirsten Dunst, Jacob Smith, Jonathan Bouck, Kevin Dunn, Ann Magnuson, Wendy Schaal, Phil Hartman, Archie Hahn, Robert Picardo | Original voice cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Frank Langella, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, Bruce Dern, George Kennedy, Clint Walker, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Christina Ricci

What do you get when you cross ‘Toy Story’ with ‘Child’s Play’ and ‘Platoon’? That seems to have been the pitch for director Joe Dante’s ‘Small Soldiers’ (‘Gremlins’, ‘Looney Tunes – Back in Action’). The result is an entertaining action film for teenagers in which Dante’s well-known style – a combination of light-hearted comedy and fantasy elements – unfortunately gets a bit snowed in.

In ‘Small Soldiers’, action figures come to life when military chips are placed in them. The brutal Commando Elite and the peaceful Gorgonites, programmed as each other’s nemesis, escape from their toy store and end up at the home of teenage Alan (Gregory Smith). Alan becomes friends with Supreme Gorgonite Archer and joins him and girl next door Christy (Kirsten Dunst) to battle the Commando Elite. The result is a series of small-scale yet spectacular battles, at times reminiscent of ‘Home Alone’.

‘Small Soldiers’ is a funny nonsense film about murderous toy figures that you should not have high expectations of. Teens and military action figures battle each other with anything they can find in the house (a nail gun, for example), and the result is exactly what you’d expect. The film is somewhat undermined by mediocre effects and an – outside the concept – uninspired script. Although Dunst (“Spider-Man”, “Jumanji”) and Smith (“Everwood”) try their best, the show is stolen by the big names who voice the toy figures. For example, the casts of ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ pass in review as members of the Commando Elite and Archer is voiced by Frank Langella (‘Frost/Nixon’, ‘The Father’). But none of them come close to Tommy Lee Jones (“Men in Black,” “The Fugitive”), who voices Commando Elite leader Chip Hazard. Jones knows exactly what kind of movie he’s in and thickens his ridiculous dialogues nicely, which makes Hazard a very nice villain.

For those who enjoy flat entertainment, ‘Small Soldiers’ is the ideal film for a drizzly Sunday afternoon. The bizarre story and the funny voice acting are entertaining enough to pull the film from start to finish, even if the film doesn’t get the most from the central concept and could have been done a little better.

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