[Screen It]


(2019) (Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman) (R)

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Horror: A boy and others must contend with a high-tech but defective doll going on a killing spree.
Karen Barclay (AUBREY PLAZA) and her 13-year-old son Andy (GABRIEL BATEMAN) have just moved to a new place where he has no friends and isn't particularly fond of her boyfriend, Shane (DAVID LEWIS). She's taken a job at a big box store in the return department and that's where she gets the idea to give Andy a returned toy as his early birthday gift.

It's an animatronic, AI controlled Buddi doll that imprints on whomever its new owner might be and can control any connected devices in the house. Little do they know that a disgruntled factory worker, upon being fired, turned off that particular doll's safety protocols and that first shows up in little glitches and the doll deciding to name itself Chucky (voice of MARK HAMILL).

It's not long before Andy and Chucky are fast friends and that leads to a few other kids who live in the building, Falyn (BEATRICE KITSOS) and Pugg (TY CONSIGLIO), befriending Andy and having fun with him making the doll do inappropriate things. But when Chucky -- who's very protective of Andy -- sees them laughing while watching a "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" movie on TV, he equates grisly and deadly violence with being a good thing.

Accordingly, it's not long before the family cat ends up dead, and then various humans start falling prey to the homicidal doll as well, all of which draws the attention of police Det. Mike Norris (BRIAN TYREE HENRY) whose older mother lives just down the hall from Andy and his mom. From that point on, Andy and his friends try to figure out how to stop Chucky and avoid being his next victim.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Yes, I'm fully aware that as a professional film critic, one is supposed to review a movie based on what's ultimately up on the screen and not how one imagined or wishes it could or should have been. Yet, when watching some movies, I can't help but let my aspiring screenwriting persona come out and think about how I would have written or at least pitched them.

The latest such example is the reboot of "Child's Play," a horror franchise that came out back in 1988, spawned four theatrical sequels and then two straight to video ones. I was never a big fan of the first film or the few sequels I saw, mainly because they were never scary to me. Yes, dolls can be creepy (check out the ventriloquist dummies in "Toy Story 4" for proof positive of that), but I just never bought into Chucky being a frightening antagonist, mainly because he'd be fairly easy to dropkick out the window or at least escape from. And then the latter films segued into goofy camp.

So, while waiting for the film to start, I imagined the best way to approach rebooting the series would be to delve deep into the meta-state where all involved would fully be aware of the previous films. And that would include the studio that would release a 30th-anniversary doll of the same likeness as before, but updated with today's technology and something that might appeal to teens looking for a cool, if macabre variation of Amazon's Alexa or the Google Home devices. So much so that a single mom such as Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) might give one as a gift to her hearing impaired, 13-year-old son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman), as welcome-to-the-neighborhood bait, if you will, to attract new friends.

They'd then get together, watch some of the old films and make fun of them, all while the new Chucky would sit, watch, listen and become increasingly irritated and offended at such mockery of him (or at least his kind). And then the doling out of comeuppance would begin, including toward Karen's abusive boyfriend Shane (David Lewis), the cop investigating the violence, Det. Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry), and perhaps, ultimately, leading to the CEO of the manufacturing company, Henry Kaslan (Tim Matheson).

While all of that could obviously use a lot of refining, it works on a basic level and maintains suspension of disbelief since it plays both off and with the cult status of the previous releases. Alas, the powers that be didn't contact me for such work. Instead, they went with the story concocted by Tyler Burton Smith where -- could it be a coincidence? -- the character names and basic attributes are the same, but the setup is a bit different.

Here, the mom gives the doll to her son which immediately raises the disbelief flags in that it's unlikely there'd be much of a market for a doll that looks like it does (it's been modified from the appearance of the original but still isn't exactly kid-friendly) or that a 13-year-old, outsider boy would want anything to do with owning one.

He briefly comments on the doll being for little kids, but it's not long before the two are best buddies. Of course, neither Andy or Karen is aware of the back-story concerning a disgruntled assembly plant employee in Vietnam turning off the high-tech doll's safety measures (another disbelief red flag that such software protection would be needed) before killing himself. And no, it's not his spirit that inhabits the doll, sort of like happened last time around. Instead, and to paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, he's not bad, he's just programmed that way.

The doll ends up watching "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" with Andy and his new friends, Pugg (Ty Consiglio) and Falyn (Beatrice Kitsos), and thanks to his adaptive learning software equates such violence to being something the boys like. And in three...two...one the killing spree commences.

As does the rote homicidal boogeyman material we've seen countless times before, albeit pint-sized this time around. And the AI gone bad angle not only has been done before (for home automation, that might have started with "Demon Seed" back in 1977) but also isn't used in any particular creative or imaginative way by Smith or director Lars Klevberg.

The latter delivers some visually gruesome demises, so if you're into that sort of thing it might meet your jollies quota, but even those aren't as cathartically "fun" as, say, the ultra-violence in the "John Wick" movies. So, what we're left with is a little doll running around and killing people, something that wasn't scary back in the late '80s and certainly isn't here.

Making a good or guilty pleasure based horror film might not be child's play, but this update doesn't do enough with the material to warrant its existence. "Child's Play" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed June 20, 2019 / Posted June 21, 2019

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