Adventures in Babysitting

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson


Disney, widescreen 1.85:1, languages: English Dolby Surround [CC], French Digital Stereo, subtitles: none, single side-single layer, 22 chapters, rated PG-13, 102 min., $29.99, street date 1/18/2000.

Studio Line

Directed by Chris Columbus. Starring Elisabeth Shue, Maia Brewton, Keith Coogan, Anthony Rapp, Calvin Levels, Vincent D'Onofrio.

Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) agrees to babysit after her dread date stands her up. Expecting a dull evening, Chris settles down with three kids for a night of TV…and boredom. But when her frantic friend Brenda calls and pleads to be rescued from the bus station in downtown Chicago, the evening soon explodes into an endless whirl of hair-raising adventures! Babysitter and kids leave their safe suburban surroundings and head for the heart of the big city, never imagining how terrifyingly funny their expedition will become!

Picture/Sound/Extras (C/C/F)

Although the two films came out within weeks of each other, you would be hard pressed to recognize Vincent D'Onofrio in both Adventures In Babysitting and Full Metal Jacket. In the former, he plays a buff blond dude who resembles Thor, God of Thunder, whereas in the latter he portrays tubby moron Pvt. Gomer Pyle. I'd say it's extremely unlikely any actor has ever looked so entirely different in two films that came out so close together.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel for material. I have to write a review of AIB and I have almost nothing to say about it other than "It bites!" Yes, this trifle from the poofy hair days of the late Eighties has hit DVD, which inspires the question: Why?

I suppose the film offers a small historical footnote since it features the directorial debut of banal panderer Chris Columbus, who would later go onto much greater success - financially if not creatively - with movies like Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire. You think if his parents had named him "Bob" he wouldn't have felt the need to take out his pain on us? For the record, Doubtfire was watchable and mildly entertaining but only because of a good performance from Robin Williams; without the presence of Columbus behind the camera, I'd bet it would have been a much better film.

AIB doesn't benefit from the talents of any comic geniuses; the best we get is the luscious Elisabeth Shue. Unfortunately, she doesn't look too luscious here. Oh, she looks cute and I'd be happy to have her baby-sit me any time, but she lacks much sex appeal. You know where she really shined? In the "Body Wars" ride at EPCOT. She plays a doctor in the film that accompanies the attraction and she does so as she wears a tight bodysuit. Oh, mama! Five minutes of Shue in "Body Wars" beats her in the whole 102 minutes of AIB.

It probably doesn't help that the film is a puerile mix of inanities that might entertain those ten and under - emphasis on might. Bizarrely, the filmmakers chose to get a "PG-13" rating for AIB simply because they decided to use the "F"-word twice. That language seemed badly out of place and made no sense. Yes, I realize that a "PG-13" won't keep many kids out of a theater - in fact, it may have added a slight cache to the film that a "PG" would lack - but I thought the foul language stood out badly and seemed completely out of place in this kind of picture.

If that was the only miscalculation made by the filmmakers, I could perhaps forgive it, but it's just another dumb choice in a bad movie. AIB offers virtually no entertainment value or humor and is just a big bore.

Adventures In Babysitting appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While Disney, et al. (Touchstone is a subsidiary of The Mouse), has shown some signs of embracing the DVD format lately, you won't find any proof of that on this wholly lackluster product.

AIB offers a very erratic picture. Sharpness usually seems pretty good, though it can become noticeably soft at the drop of a hat. Little rhyme or reason accompanies the film's various flaws such as this, though the fuzziness appeared to mainly be a problem in some - but not all, or most - interior shots. In general, the image usually looks somewhat flat and lifeless. Moire effects and jagged edges are happily nonexistent, though, and print flaws are fairly minimal; I noticed occasional speckling and some of problems like small scratches or smears, and a little grain occasionally popped up, but the issues are not overwhelming.

Colors seemed pretty good though they lacked tightness; the hues looked largely accurate but didn't appear as well-defined as I might like. Black levels were relatively deep and dark, and shadow detail also looked adequate. Overall, the film appears largely okay but it simply lacked any kind of luster or sheen; the movie was watchable but presented a very blah visual image.

Virtually the same can be said for the film's Dolby Surround 2.0 mix. While by no means a bad soundtrack, it also had some flaws but mainly just appeared very dull and ordinary. The soundstage was acceptable for a picture from 1987. Dialogue clung closely to the center, as did most effects, though they also spread to the sides and occasionally to the rears when necessary; this occurred with decent but not great results. Music occupied the lion's share of the side and rear speakers and did so well enough to add a little oomph to the image.

Quality was generally thin but listenable. Dialogue seemed intelligible but lacked a natural tone; it appeared reedy and edgy for the most part. Effects came across in a similar manner; they were acceptably realistic but tended to appear rather trebly. Music varied quite a lot. At times it seemed nicely rich and deep, but it also could appear weak and listless. Overall, I found the audio of AIB to seem fairly typical of a movie from 1987; they could have done better, but it's still decent.

Much less acceptable is the complement of supplements on this DVD. There aren't any. No trailer, no biographies, no production notes, no booklet. While I don't expect the full special edition treatment for an old clunker like this, a few tidbits would have been nice, especially if Disney really do want to change their abysmal image with DVD fans.

I've had easier recommendations to make, but not many. Adventures In Babysitting offers a dull, witless film on a DVD that provides lackluster sound and picture and absolutely no supplemental content. Even the succulent Elisabeth Shue can't save this stinker - avoid it with a vengeance.

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