Before Barry Levinson made his 1982 debut as a director with the memorable Diner, he and co-writer Valerie Curtin concocted a script about a military plot to use toys for war. No studio would touch it. Now after the box-office success of Good Morning, Vietnam, the cachet of Bugsy and the Oscar for Rain Man, Levinson has the clout to make his dream movie a reality.
To cut Toys a minor break, it is ambitious. It is also a gimmicky, obvious and pious bore, not to mention overproduced and overlong. Levinson works best close in; the visionary art of Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam eludes him. Like And Justice for All, another Levinson-Curtin script, Toys mistakes bombast for grandeur.
Robin Williams stars as Leslie Zevo, the son of a toy maker (Donald O’Connor) with a macabre sense of whimsy. Just before the old man pops off, he asks his brother, Leland (Michael Gambon), a three-star general, to run the toy business. He thinks the general will make a man of Leslie, but the decision sounds like something more pernicious: a plot contrivance.
Leslie is only slightly less bubble-headed than his sister, Alsatia (Joan Cusack), who dresses in doll clothes. Williams’s riffs soared as the Genie in Aladdin. But Michael Jackson impressions and cracks about getting laid don’t jibe with Leslie the isolated, gentle fool. Toys is tainted with pseudocleverness, such as casting the charmingly assured rapper L.L. Cool J as Patrick, the general’s commando son.
Behind closed doors the general turns toys into miniature weapons. It’s up to Leslie, Alsatia and a duplicating-machine operator named Gwen (a babe cliché made sassy and human by Robin Wright) to save the factory and the world from this F.A.O. Schwarzkopf. No amount of brilliant production design – andToys has plenty, courtesy of the dada-besotted Ferdinando Scarfiotti (The Last Emperor) – can disguise the smug hypocrisy of an antiwar tract that decries the killing games of vid-age children and then offers up a climactic battle between hawk toys and dove toys for their movie delectation.