Small Soldiers

"Declare your allegiance," barks one of this film's twelve-inch action figures. OK, pal, my allegiance is to the late Phil Hartman, an actor of extraordinary comic gifts. What a shame that his final screen role traps Hartman in a noisy gimmick flick about toy soldiers that come to life and start kicking human ass. It seems that all the ingenuity was lavished on the toys. They include the mutant Gorgonites, led by Archer (voiced by Frank Langella), and the Commando Elite, testosterone-dripping soldiers, led by Maj. Chip Hazard (growled by Tommy Lee Jones).

It took a quartet of screenwriters to come up with the plot, which is surprising since the story is a rehash of Gremlins, also directed by Joe Dante. A corporation run by a smirking Denis Leary invents toys that turn out to be dangerous. The question is, will Alan (Gregory Smith), the teen son of a small-town Ohio toy-store owner, get to stop the malevolent Commando Elite before the toys are widely distributed, help the Gorgonites (they're the good guys) save the world, and kiss Christy (Kirsten Dunst) -- the babe next door? Hartman plays Christy's dad, a conspicuously odious consumer who saws down his neighbor's tree to install a satellite dish. With the recent tragedy, the filmmakers couldn't know that audiences might cringe watching Hartman's character running from an attack or being saddled with a wife (Wendy Schaal) who is woozy on pills. What they could have done was give Hartman a part worthy of his talent. He deserved better.

From The Archives Issue 793: August 20, 1998
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