Chucky lives! At least until the numbing script of this Child’s Play reboot puts the screws to him. Remember the 1988 original that spawned six sequels of killer doll mayhem? Despite the uneven quality of the series, creator Don Mancini livened things up with tacky fun and scares to make you jump. Brad Dourif played the dead murderer whose spirit inhabited Chucky and spoke for him with chilling creepiness.
Mancini and Dourif are nowhere to found in the new Child’s Play, a botch job from director Lars Klevberg and screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith. Also MIA is the original’s perverse originality. Instead, in a misguided satire of the digital era and millennial consumerism, we see shoppers lining up to buy Buddi dolls that plug into the internet, allowing kids to find companionship with an animatronic Alexa that can turn on your TV, shop on command and play games for like forever. Here’s the catch: At the sweatshop in Vietnam where the Buddi dolls are manufactured, a fired worker takes out his revenge by inserting a violence chip into one of the dolls.
That doll finds its way into the cramped apartment of Karen (Aubrey Plaza, whose deadpan, comic presence is a constant delight). Karen is a hottie single mom — “I had a productive sweet 16” — who feels guilty about neglecting her son Andy (the excellent Gabriel Bateman) to work at a department store that sells — wait for it — Buddi dolls. When a defective doll is returned, Karen takes it home to Andy, who names him Chucky. Other names are considered, including Han Solo, a Star Wars reference that cues the entrance of Mark Hamill, the new voice of Chucky. Hamill, who previously proved his vocal prowess as the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, nails every ounce of mirth and malice in the part, parroting embarrassing words like “asshole,” which Andy applies to his mom’s loser booty call, Sean (David Lewis). It’s murder on Sean and the family cat when Andy and his friends watch bloody horror shows such as the face-peeling Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Chucky proves a quick study and, boy, is he handy with a knife. For a while, Child’s Play seems on the path to delivering the funny-scary goods
And then — boom — the bottom falls out. The gore, which is plentiful, grows repetitive and dull. Buzzsaws ever buzz toward the next available crotch. And when a fearful Andy tries locking up Chucky in a closet, there is unholy hell to pay. Plaza, Bateman and Brian Tyree Henry as a neighbor cop work hard to develop human interest in a movie that quickly devolves into clichéd plot mechanics. No go. The bloodbath climax at mom’s store, featuring an army of Chucky clones, smacks of the desperation that comes when a movie is in over its admittedly empty head. By the way, the store shelves are lined with boxes for Buddi 2, the next generation of killer dolls. The suggestion that a sequel is coming is the only thing in Child’s Play that struck fear in my heart.