If you're a film maker and want to quickly establish a sympathetic character, one of the better techniques is to make him/her the "victim" of a bully's actions. Since nearly everyone in their life -- at one point or another -- has been picked on physically, intellectually, or even emotionally, it's easy to feel for the kid who's getting the similar treatment.
That holds true for "Star Kid," the latest entry in a long line of films where the new kid in town must deal with the school bully while trying to win over the heart of the pretty girl. Written and directed by Manny Coto (whose last effort was the 1992 low budget horror flick, "Dr. Giggles"), this movie follows the standard set-up (such as in "My Bodyguard," "The Karate Kid" movies and countless other films) where the picked on kid is protected by a stranger who sometimes also teaches him how to deal with everyday problems. Of course this film adds a new type of bully to the story, and it comes in the form of an ugly space monster that the kid must also fight.
Yes, suspension of disbelief is greatly needed for this story to work and it's surprisingly easy to come by. Part of that can be attributed to fourteen-year-old Mazzello who's best known as the little boy in "Jurrasic Park" (1993). While he does a decent job in the role of the small, picked on kid who eventually manages to take care of the bully, the fact that we've already seen him surrounded by hordes of dinosaurs helps in accepting the fantasy situation in which we find him in this film.
Younger kids, who obviously will identify with Spencer's plight, will love this movie where he not only finally beats up the bully, but also kicks some serious alien butt (a recent favorite trend after "Independence Day" and "Men In Black"). The special effects are fun (and technically quite good looking considering what's initially expected of them), as are the many scenes where Spencer awkwardly tries to guide the out of control robot. Kids will giggle when Spencer has Cy walk toward Turbo in a Frankenstein monster-like way and answer, "Your brains," to the frightened bully's question about what he wants. Likewise, they'll laugh when Cy accidentally destroys much of the kitchen after literally getting his head stuck in the fridge and then blindly spinning about.
By adding the whole space alien combat material, the film not only gives Spencer a way to take care of the bully, but it also allows the film to segue into a completely different story. Of course that's not a bad thing since the bully genre has nearly been overdone, and the whimsy in which the space alien element is presented makes the whole concept easy to swallow. Most of the fun comes from Spencer having to teach Cy about his Earth-based colloquial terms. When the boy tells the robot they have to hit the road, Cy confusedly asks, "We have to strike the pavement?" And when he mentions being a chicken or talks about "having a cow," Cy immediately gets confused as his visual display shows the real animals that logically (to him) don't connect to the boy's references.
Much of the material, though, is surprisingly lifted straight from the "Terminator" movies. If you remember the sequel, Edward Furlong teaches Schwarzenegger's robot all about human phrases and emotions, and even has a scene where the terminator "gives him five" (slapping palms) that's directly duplicated in this film, including the boy briefly wincing in pain from the slap. Also taken straight from those movies is the robot's visual display (with all sorts of readouts on the screen -- including a body outline scene where the robot tries to match up an image with real people he sees) and the literally crushing finale where the "villain" is killed.
Of course the audience for whom this movie's aimed will have little knowledge of those James Cameron films, but for adults it's a pretty obvious rip-off. Even so, parents might find some moments that are fun (the robot removes all unnecessary ingredients from a hamburger for Spencer to eat -- essentially rendering it tasteless) to touching (when the boy gets to see a vivid memory of his deceased mother).
Mazzello is perfectly cast in the role as the new kid on the block, and it's nice that the film makers didn't dwell too much on the loss of his mother (and thus avoided making the film upsetting to kids, or at minimum, a "downer"). Expertly capturing the awkward early pangs of adolescence and fear of the bully, Mazzello is engaging to watch and quickly captures our sympathy regarding his plight. The rest of the performers are adequate, but not nearly developed enough to make them really interesting. Simmrin is quite stereotypical as the bully, and it's surprising that Lauren Eckstrom's character (the would-be girlfriend) isn't more developed.
Of course the story's not really about his pursuit of her as a girlfriend, but since it's introduced, it would have been nice to see it played out to a greater extent. Beyond that, there's also the stereotypically perturbed older sister, the single dad who has no time for his kids, and the caring -- and of course -- pretty school teacher who befriends the main character.
That said, the film still has a certain charm about it and is certainly easy to watch. Despite the stereotypical characters and the material lifted from the other movies, it all gels together into a pleasant little film that should entertain kids and keep their parents from getting too bored (although the ending fight sequence goes on for a bit too long). Considering its target audience, we found it to be mildly entertaining but entirely forgettable, and thus give "Star Kid" a 4 out of 10.