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Daniel Petrie Jr. directed Toy Soldiers, released in 1991, working off of his own screenplay based on the novel of the same name penned by William P. Kennedy. Though this would be Petrie's directorial feature debut, he had proven himself in the years prior with his work writing the Beverly Hills Cop movies and, well, Turner And Hooch (hey, say what you will but it made money).
When the movie opens, a guy in Central America named Luis Cali (Andrew Divoff) kills a few hostages in order to coax the powers that be into freeing his captive drug kingpin father about to be extradited to the United States to stand trial. Elsewhere, a gang of students at The Regis School For Boys escape from their dorm and congregate in the basement of an antiquated building only to, shortly thereafter, get busted by the dean, Edward Parker (Louis Gossett Jr.).
The group of busted students, who all come from wealthy and powerful families, is made up of Billy (Sean Astin), Joey (Wil Wheaton), Jonathan (Keith Coogan), Ricardo (George Perez), and Hank (T.E. Russell) and they're not exactly stoked that they got caught, but it is what it is. When Luis Cali makes his way to the United States and, with the help of some heavily armed gunmen, takes over Regis, he intends to hold the staff and student body hostage, again as leverage to get his father freed. In fact, Cali has constructed a bomb that he can blow up with a wrist control should things not go his way. What Cali doesn't count on is the fact that these young men are much more familiar with the layout of the school and everything that it contains than he is, and that they're clever enough to know how to use what they have access to against him. As the boys try to get word the a nearby military operation about what's happening, they stakes get even higher…
As predictable as Toy Soldiers is (and it's plenty predictable), it's a pretty fun watch. Maybe there's a bit of a nostalgia factor here but even if we try to remove that from the equation, the movie benefits from a solid cast and some quick pacing. The school location works as the right type of place to stage all of this and while things movie a little slowly at first, once the action begins to ramp up, Petrie and company are able to effectively exploit the locale. Production values are pretty decent here as well. The score isn't super memorable or anything but it does what it needs to do and highlights the action and the drama in equal measure, and the cinematography and lighting are both more than adequate, getting the job done and then some.
The cast, however, is what makes this as enjoyable as it is. Andrew Divoff is always awesome as the bad guy and while maybe he's not entirely convincing from a racial perspective, the fact is that the guy gives 110% here and he's eminently watchable in this role. Louis Gossett Jr. is also perfectly cast as the disciplinarian at the school. His character is tough but fair, and if you think tough but fair you probably think Louis Gossett Jr. right? (Or is it just me?). Regardless, he's a blast in the role and a fine casting choice. As to the ‘soldiers' themselves? Astin as the de facto leader of the group gets the most to do here, and the star of The Goonies and The Lord Of The Rings handles the material just fine. We like him and we want he and his pals to win the day. A young Wil Wheaton, cast here a few years after Stand By Me and in the middle of his Star Trek: The Next Generation run, is pretty decent and both Keith Coggan, George Perez (no relation to the comic book artist of the same name) and T.E. Russell are just fine, if not as memorable, in their supporting roles.
This may never feel like the most original film ever made and, again, the pacing could have easily been tightened up in the first third of its running time, but Toy Soldiers does what it needs to do quite well and the end result, if hardly a missed classic, will certainly entertain anyone who a taste for goofy, low budget action films.
Toy Soldiers arrives on a 25GB region free Blu-ray disc from Code Red with the feature presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.78.1 widescreen taking up 21.6GBs of space on the disc. The transfer here is a more than decent, in fact, it's quite good. The picture is nice and clean, showing very little print damage while retaining the ever important natural film grain that should be there. Colors are reproduced nicely, black levels look good and there are no issues with compression artifacts, noise reduction or edge enhancement to gripe about. Detail isn't reference quality, indicating that maybe this came from an older HD scan, but it definitely rises above DVD levels. Some scenes are a bit softer than others but that looks to be how the movie was shot. Otherwise, no issues here, this looks just fine.
The main audio track on the disc is an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. The stereo mix here sounds just fine. The levels are nicely balanced, there are some nice moments of clear channel separation and the track is free of any hiss or distortion. There's a good bit of depth here and the dialogue is always clear. Not complaints about the audio on this release.
Extras are limited to a trailer for the feature and trailers for a few other Code Red properties as well as menus and chapter selection.
Toy Soldiers takes a little while to get moving properly but once it does, it's good fun. A solid cast helps here, and there are a few legitimately exciting set pieces that prove to be pretty memorable. Code Red's Blu-ray release is light on extras but it does look and sound decent enough. Casually recommended, particularly if you have a soft spot for goofy action films.rn
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.