Here's one that had all the ingredients to be much better than it turned out. In Small Soldiers, a toy company is taken over by a large corporation (run by Denis Leary), downsized nearly out of existence, and given a short period of time in which to prove itself viable. Two toymakers, one ruthless (Jay Mohr) and the other caring (David Cross of HBO's brilliant Mr. Show), set about designing the toy of the future, in this case a set of intelligent action figures with the ability to interact with their owners. Hoping to make his father's peacenik toy store profitable for once, a troubled teen (Gregory Smith) puts the toys on the market early. When the ruthless soldier dolls (led by the voice of Tommy Lee Jones) begin fighting the peaceful, alien-like Gorgonites (led by the voice of Frank Langella), all hell breaks loose. With the terrific Gremlins films and the overlooked Matinee, director Joe Dante has demonstrated an ability to bring the right blend of satire, affection, and B-movie thrills to a project like Small Soldiers, and with impressive Stan Winston special effects backing him up, this seemed like a can't-miss proposition. It does miss. Even with five writers credited, Small Soldiers doesn't know what to do with its premise once it's established, and it takes too long to do even that. There are isolated moments of brilliance—particularly those involving Smith's teen love interest (Kirsten Dunst) smashing a violent bunch of Barbie-like dolls that have also been brought to life—and the film's anti-corporate, anti-militant heart is in the right place. But Small Soldiers itself is mostly dull. The cartoonishly violent action scenes (about which way too much has been made) are thrill-free, and a talented cast (particularly Cross, Mohr, and Phil Hartman in his last role) goes to waste. That the soldiers are voiced by the original cast of The Dirty Dozen (Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Jim Brown, etc.) and the Gorgonites by the members of Spinal Tap (Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer) is an amusing touch. But like most of the film's clever notions—and the film itself—that's all it is.
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