Family Fun

Titles Reviewed: A Cry In The Wild (1990), Munchies (1987), The Skateboard Kid (1993)

A Cry In The Wild

(USA, 1990) DIR: Mark Griffiths. SCR: Gary Paulsen, Catherine Cryan. PROD: Julie Corman. CAST: Jared Rushton, Pamela Sue Martin, Stephen Meadows, Ned Beatty.


When Concorde New Horizons began its direct-to-video operation, executive producer Roger Corman wisely saw the potential in family movies, and intermittently released such films to corner another market (an amusing kind of mass marketing: releasing a sex-and-violence pic one week, and a wholesome family movie the next). Corman’s wife Julie produced The Dirt Bike Kid, featuring Peter Billinglsey, an early and successful foray into the family market. A Cry In The Wild may be the most interesting and unusual picture with her name attached. In this adaptation of the novel Hatchet (co-scripted by its author, Gary Paulsen), Jared Rushton plays Brian Robeson, a boy who survives the crash of a small plane (piloted by Ned Beatty!) in the Yukon on the way to meet his father, and then must obtain food and shelter until he is rescued. This very good, well-made adventure has enough action and suspense for young viewers, yet it is refreshingly free of gushy sentimentality, so that adults can enjoy it too. There is also an interesting subtext, provided via flashbacks, that explain Brian’s domestic life, as his parents have divorced, and he is resentful of the new guy dating his mother (former Dynasty star Pamela Sue Martin, kind of a perfect addition to the Roger Corman universe). Think of this as "Farley Mowat Meets Ingmar Bergman", as this yarn is as much psychological as visceral. Ultimately, this movie documents a child without a father figure who must become a man in order to survive. The original novel (so titled because the mother gives Brian an amazingly prophetic gift of a hatchet before his fateful plane ride… and would soon need it in the wilderness) is considered a minor classic among young readers, and those who love the book naturally detest the movie, largely because the film is harder-edged. Yet, A Cry In The Wild is perhaps more "grown up" to broaden its appeal. The narrative thread of the parents’ divorce actually adds to the already engrossing story of survival.

Munchies

(USA, 1987) DIR: Tina Hirsch. SCR: Lance Smith. PROD: Roger Corman. CAST: Harvey Korman, Charlie Stratton, Nadine Van der Velde, Alix Elias, Paul Bartel.


Once Roger Corman opened his Concorde New Horizons studio, a lot more light-hearted movies came off the assembly line than at his previous home of New World. It has been said that during the Concorde years, Corman was catching up to trends instead of leading them. In this case, he is playing catch-up to the rash of "little creature" movies made after the success of Gremlins, made by his ex-employee Joe Dante.

Harvey Korman (slumming it until the next reunion of The Carol Burnett Show), plays Professor Cecil Watterman, who on an archaelogical dig with his son in Peru, discovers this creature and brings it back home. Simon, his evil twin brother (also Korman), a food entrepreneur, kidnaps the thing and chops it up, which only forms little "Munchies" who cause all sorts of destruction. It is a sorry state of affairs when Korman plays two roles in a movie where there is barely enough substance for one.

In her sole foray as a director, Tina Hirsch, the first female president of the American Cinema Editor’s guild, and (ironically) the editor of Gremlins, is all thumbs with comic timing, but to her credit, has little to work with anyway, as scenes play on endlessly after they’ve worn out their welcome. This movie was popular on videocassette, for it did have the fortune of riding the home video wave after Gremlins made a splash, but it is hard to imagine anyone above 5 years of age comfortably sitting through this. While surely it has just as much mayhem as its inspiration, Gremlins was also a very clever criticism of white picket fence America and a brilliant pop culture in-joke. Instead, we get some guy smoking dope listening to the Grateful Dead who quickly becomes Munchie bait, in a scene that at least proves once and for all that the 80s killed off the hippies, and dreck like this became the norm over clever entertainment. Undaunted, Corman followed up with an in-name-only sequel, Munchie.

The Skateboard Kid

(USA, 1993) DIR: Larry Swerdlove. SCR: Gary Stuart Kaplan, Larry Swerdlove. PROD: Minard Hamilton. CAST: Timothy Busfield, Bess Armstrong, Cliff De Young, Rick Dean, Trevor Lissauer, Dom DeLuise.


This juvenile fare from Roger Corman’s Concorde-New Horizons is essentially a re-write of their video favourite, The Dirt Bike Kid, to accommodate the early 1990s skateboard craze. Trevor Lissauer plays Zack, the archetypal "new kid in town", who doesn’t have any friends, so he begins skateboarding to fit in with the other kids. (One look at the "other kids" and you will wonder why he would want to, but anyway….) Much to his delight and salvation, the skateboard is magical, and can fly through the air, to make him the envy of the neighbourhood. Even more, the skateboard has a voice (by Dom DeLuise) from a person named Rip, and a really pathetic animated face at the front of the board. Yet, as convention would allow, "with great skateboard comes great responsibility", so Zack must use this board for more than showing up a few mullet-headed jerks on the corner. With the help of his new "power", he reveals that his mother’s new boyfriend, used-car salesman Big Dan (Cliff DeYoung), just wants to marry her so he can acquire some Old West treasure that is buried in her land! This movie was clearly made solely for the "after school special" demographic, but it’s amiable enough for those over 14 years of age, as the grating teenagers are easily out-acted by the amusing adults. Cliff DeYoung is clearly having a good time, and as for Dom DeLuise- well, he won’t make you forget Robin Williams as Aladdin.