Adventures in Babysitting is one of the liveliest and best
teen comedies of the 1980s, and that is largely because it respects
its characters, treating them as human beings with inner lives and not
simply as hormone-fueled vessels built for sexual slapstick. It's
not a perfect film: jokes fall flat and there's a moderate portion
of lurching, clanking dialogue. Yet a game cast, an incident-packed
plot, and genuinely creative set-pieces keep the movie feeling relatively
fresh 25 years after its theatrical release.
Elizabeth Shue plays Chris Parker, and the crush I
had on Shue as a teen always comes crashing back every time I see her
launch into the fully committed lip-sync number (to "Then He Kissed
Me") that opens the film. Parker is a vivacious but romantically naïve
17-year-old who has just been stood up by a boyfriend she idealizes
beyond any reasonable measure. Instead, she winds up doomed to spend
the evening babysitting for the Andersons: Brad, who at age 15 is more
interested in Chris's feminine charms than he is in need of being
supervised, and 8-year-old Sara, a fiend for Thor of Marvel Comics (Babysitting
was made at a time when this superhero's own film franchise was borderline-unthinkable).
Almost as soon as Chris arrives at the Andersons,
things start to go wrong. Chris receives a phone call from her distraught
friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller), who has run away from home and
needs to be picked up at the Chicago bus terminal. Brad's friend Daryl
(Anthony Rapp) shows up at the Andersons' house, threatening to hijack
the whole evening. Finally, Chris resolves to take the pack of them
downtown to rescue Brenda. That's when the movie starts to take off.
This is prolific TV writer David Simkins' only produced
feature script. It's a high-energy film that contains a whole lot
of great ideas - from the encounter with be-hooked tow-truck driver
Pruitt and the kids' descent into Chicago's criminal underbelly,
to the blues club sequence in which Parker is forced to improvise a
tune and the finale atop the Smurfit-Stone Building. The characters
are each clearly delineated: Chris would rather be elsewhere, but her
unfailing sense of responsibility keeps her on top of every new situation;
Brad is awkward and restrained in his admiration for Chris; Sara is
too young to grasp the danger inherent in the evening's events (her
gleeful refrain is, "This is great!"); and Daryl is an obnoxious,
Adventures in Babysitting was the directorial debut of Chris
Columbus, and it's arguably his best film. Columbus cut his teeth
in Hollywood writing clever screenplays like Gremlins, The Goonies, and Young Sherlock Holmes. Those movies had something in common
they were about kids who found themselves in absurd, outlandish situations,
and the ingenious ways in which they handled them. When Columbus "graduated"
to directing films with larger budgets and bigger stars (Mrs. Doubtfire, Stepmom) he seemed to lose sight of the kind of material that
had initially driven his considerable creative instincts. But Adventures in Babysitting caught him still in an earlier stage
of inventive ferment, working his small cast into a dynamic that allowed
for fast repartee and an improvised feel.
As in 1987, Adventures in Babysitting will still do best with younger audiences,
but its charm will not be lost upon viewers of every age. The movie's
verve and energetic cast do much to rescue the film from its own faults:
the clumsy dialogue mixed with the clever, and the jokes that fall flat
among terrific ones.
Image and Sound
Disney's Blu-ray - labeled as a "25th Anniversary
Edition" - leaves something to be desired in both the technical
and content departments. Visually, the 1.85:1 transfer leans heavily
toward grain - too heavily. The image looks weathered in many places,
as if the transfer had been struck from a well-worn print. In most places,
the 80s-era color palette comes across as both bright and realistic.
On the other hand, the age of the film is evident often enough in the
image to be distracting. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack fares somewhat
better. It's an involving track that highlights music (by Michael
Kamen, and various Chicago blues musicians) and sound effects with good
separation and dynamic range.
Nothing. How about the trailer? No. The films' 25th
anniversary, although emblazoned across the cover artwork, turns out
not to be such a cause for celebration - that is, according
to the studio that owns the movie.
What will be a fast and funny nostalgia trip for many
will likely continue to engage younger audiences, and perhaps some of
their parents. The Blu-ray is unspectacular in the technical departments
and a failure in terms of bonus content. Rent it.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.