Baby Geniuses

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson


Columbia-TriStar, standard 1.33:1, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC] & Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, single side-dual layer, 28 chapters, "Making of Featurette", "Movie Magic Special Effect" mini-featurette, rated PG, 95 min., $24.95, street date 7/27/99.

Studio Line

Directed by Bob Clark. Starring Kathleen Turner, Christopher Lloyd, Kim Cattrall, Peter MacNicol, Dom DeLuise.

Dr. Elena Kinder is out to dominate the world. Two-year-old Sly is the only person in her way. Dr. Kinder and her partner in crime, Dr. Heep, have convert research lab dedicated to cracking the code to a secret baby language.

When Sly escapes from the lab, he joins his twin brother Whit in an effort to expose the nefarious plot. Raised by his uncle, who cares for special children, Whit is naïve to the ways of the world, and is quickly captured by Dr. Kinder. Mistaken for Whit, Sly is taken back to his uncle, where he rallies the other foster babies into a super commando rescue squad to invade the secret lab in an effort to squash Dr. Kinder's evil plot.

Picture/Sound/Extras (B/B+/D)

At the risk of informing everyone that yes, I am a complete geek, here it is: I collect toys. Mainly Star Wars stuff, but I also like to just browse around the stores; it's free and it's fun!

One of the oddest items I encountered happened back in the summer of 1998. Actually, it was two items I found; these were talking, two-foot-or-so tall dolls that apparently came from a movie called Baby Geniuses. Baby Geniuses?! Where was I when that came out?

As it happens, I didn't miss a thing: the dolls hit the shelves months before the film itself. This isn't unusual in the toy biz, but it does seem odd since I'd never heard of the movie. Well, I guess I wasn't in its target audience, so I suppose it wasn't that big a surprise, but since I stay up on movies, it still seemed odd.

Anyway, Baby Geniuses finally came out in March 1999, and it went pretty quickly with little more than a box office whimper. Although I was tempted to see it - how could I go wrong with anything that looked so terrible? - I passed it by and only got around to finally witnessing the horror known as Baby Geniuses through a Netflix rental.

Those dolls were a pretty good precursor of what was to follow. If you pressed one side, you'd hear "baby talk," but if you pushed the other, you'd get the "baby genius" translation. That allowed us to hear such adorable phrases as "Gimme a break!" and "Look out world - the Sly-man is here!"

(Footnote: Kay-bee toys had these dolls - which originally went for about $30 - on sale for $5 a few months back. I got them for a friend who also delights in the joys of the truly annoying. He may never forgive me for this gift.)

The burning question remains: is Baby Geniuses the movie as obnoxious and cloying irritating as was Baby Geniuses the dolls? Yup! I can't say the film's worse than I expected, but that may be because I figured the cinematic equivalent of the Black Death would pop up on my TV screen; it's hard to be worse than utterly horrible.

And utterly horrible BG. It's a terribly unoriginal film, one that mixes obvious inspirations like Look Who's Talking and Home Alone with the annoying technology that let us watch that "cute" Dancing Baby on Ally McBeal. (Well, it let some people watch the Dancing Baby; I'm happy to say I've never been able to make it through a whole episode of that terrible show, though I've tried a couple of times.)

A less-known influence for this movie may actually have come from a 1992 episode of The Simpsons. That show, called "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" showed Homer's long-lost half-brother Herb's attempt to return to the ways of the wealthy. He eventually does so with a machine that translates babytalk.

I love The Simpsons, and that episode was a good one, but if it in any way influenced the makers of BG to film it, then I may have to kill myself after I shoot everyone associated with The Simpsons. (Hmm... That seems a little extreme. Okay, I'll just kill all of the others but not myself.) Baby Geniuses is an absolutely terrible film, one that never offers the slightest bit of entertainment value other than as a film equivalent of a car wreck; it's just so atrocious that I couldn't look away.

Here are the positives about BG: 1) Technologically, it's pretty impressive. The babies are made to "speak" through some nice digital manipulation, and it's often very believable; 2) We get to see pathetic celebrity brother Jim "God, I Wish I Were Tom!" Hanks in an amazing performance as a goon. Yes, it's a step down from his stunning star turn in Buford's Beach Bunnies, but a boy's gotta eat, I suppose.

After that, it's all downhill. The film attempts a story but it's all just an excuse for saccharine-sweet shots of these precocious youngsters. The nadir? A long musical montage in which our "hero" Sly - who's hidden himself in an upscale store after closing - tries on a variety of different "looks". I don't know why it surprises me so that some people find this dreck entertaining - after all, that terrible Anne Geddes stuff sells - but I find it disheartening nonetheless. Well, at least it gives us the opportunity to hear Taco's forgotten-by-most-but-not-me-and-other-aficionados-of-trash 1983 synth-pop rendition of "Puttin' On the Ritz". (Heh! Taco!)

Despite the potent combination of both Taco and Jim Hanks, nothing can make this movie less pathetic. God, how I pity the cast! Who did Kathleen Turner and Christopher Lloyd upset bad enough to be stuck in this stinker? Actually, I guess Lloyd will do virtually anything for a buck - his string of crummy movies and lame commercials make that clear - but that doesn't explain why the others show up here. It would have been better to receive a quick death than to suffer from this refuse on the resume.

Get the feeling I didn't like Baby Geniuses? I almost feel bad that I'm ripping it so strongly, since I knew what I would get, but it's too late now; I can't qualify my statements with any excuses for this tripe. Will it be more enjoyable to kids? Certainly, but that doesn't make it any less horrible, and any parent who lets their children watch a movie in which the expression "diaper gravy" is tossed about so gleefully might want to consider putting their offspring up for adoption.

I didn't think director Bob Clark could sink any lower than the unfunny excesses of Porky's, but Baby Geniuses proves that this is possible. Hey, at least Porky's offered some excellent female nudity! Baby Geniuses, on the other hand, presents no redeeming characteristics.

Columbia-Tristar (CTS) are really starting to confuse me in regard to many of their DVD releases. Not many studios support DVDs with both fullscreen and letterboxed versions of movies on the same disc, but they've consistently done so. However, some of their titles - notably their recent Bats release - have gone only one way or the other.

They seem to feel that kids won't like letterboxing so many of their releases aimed at the younger set - like The Adventures of Elmo In Grouchland - have offered only a fullscreen transfer. Baby Geniuses also falls into that category - sort of. The first ten minutes or so of the movie are actually letterboxed, but once the opening credits end, that's it for the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio as well; it's all pan and scan from there.

In regard to that last statement, yes, BG does appear to be a pan and scan transfer, not one that's simply making a fullscreen image from an open matte film. If that latter case were true, that would mean we'd lose no information from the sides of the screen and we'd gain data at the tops and bottoms. This doesn't appear to be the case. Although no significant information is lost, the image clearly looks much more cramped on the sides than it should. Why CTS didn't provide both pan and scan and letterboxed versions is unknown, but it seems like an odd and dopey choice, especially since they've done that so many times with other DVDs.

Anyway, although slightly cropped, BG offers a decent image though not one that's as good as I'd expect. Sharpness consistently looks excellent and I detected very few signs of softness. I also saw no moiré effects or jagged edges. The print used for the transfer appeared clean and displayed no grain, scratches, marks, speckles or other flaws.

Colors generally seem bright but I thought they appeared oversaturated and slightly messy. Black levels were somewhat murky and shadow detail, although fairly well-defined, reflected this lack of depth. Actually, I had a hard time rating BG because the image as a whole often seemed hazier than it should but it was difficult for me to pinpoint specific flaws; I just felt it appeared less crisp and neat for the most part, though some scenes look great. Overall, the movie earned a solid "B+" but some variation occurs.

More easily judged is the film's good Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. It's a very busy mix - maybe a little too busy at times, really. The producers work hard to keep the track buzzing for much of the movie, and while this kept me awake, at least, some of the time the audio gimmickry seemed gratuitous; it sounded like they used the various channels because they could, not because they should. As a serious devotee of wild 5.1 mixes, it pains me to say that, but it's true; Baby Geniuses offers an active surround track but not one that always serves the film.

Still, it adds some spark to an otherwise painful affair, so I suppose that's a good thing. There's not a ton of panning from channel to channel, but many distinct sounds are isolated in different speakers, so some sense of variety occurs. Audio appears fairly well-placed, if too discrete at times. Sometimes the effects and music overwhelmed the dialogue, though, and it could occasionally be difficult to understand what participants said underneath the roar.

Quality seems good but not great. Obviously all of the babies' voices were dubbed, so these sound a bit artificial but decently clear. It appeared that much of the dialogue from the adults also was re-recorded, though, and this speech appeared less well-integrated; we expect some lip synch problems for the babies, but the adults displayed a bit of this as well. Still, dialogue sounded reasonably intelligible (when not drowned out by effects and music) and natural. Both music and effects were clean and fairly deep, though not a whole lot of low end appeared. I noted no distortion on the track. It's a generally good mix, though overly showy and lacking in depth.

This DVD provides a very limited complement of supplements. First up is a 3 minute featurette. I often call these pieces "glorified trailers," but that phrase is really true here. It offers a couple of very brief interview clips with Turner and Clark but the rest of it just shows film clips. Skip it.

A second featurette appears as well, a 90 second "movie magic" program. This one's actually pretty good though it's way too brief. After all, one of the few interesting aspects of Baby Geniuses relates to the technology used to make the toddlers "talk," so I certainly would have liked to have learned more about the effects. This piece is worth a look but it seems painfully inadequate.

Finally, a few "DVD basics" round out the package. The usual detail-free CTS talent files appear for the four main actors (Turner, Lloyd, Peter MacNicol and Kim Cattrall) and director Clark. We also get the movie's trailer and a booklet with some brief production notes. Yawn...

CTS have produced a decent DVD with Baby Geniuses but the film itself should never have made it to screens, big or small. It's one of the worst, most cloying and cutesy movies I've ever seen. Stay away from it, and keep your kids away from it as well - this dreck doesn't deserve to be seen.

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