Buddi (voiced by Mark Hamill) is the latest trending toy that has taken a corner of our globe by storm. He is the fictional movie equivalent of an AI Furby Connect, trapped in a Cabbage Patch doll body with the ability to control anything electronic – thermostats, security and more... The only problem is that he comes all-inclusive with an off-kilter learning curve glitch and has a murderous intent.
The “Child’s Play” reboot has had a rocky box office start, underperforming upon its opening night and receiving a C+ on Cinema Score, which is in line with the most hated entry in the “Child’s Play” canon – “Seed of Chucky” (2004) and is a noticeable slump in comparison to Tom Holland’s 1988 original (B), its 1990 sequel (A-) and its 1998 reboot (B). But just like theatrical releases in the late 1980s that had to compete with the VHS boom, movies today have the home entertainment streaming services as a competitor, so is its opening weekend figures really a reflection on the film’s quality, and does UA deserve another shot at bringing Chucky back from the dead for one more kill?
"It’s Smith’s writing approach to Buddi’s programming that provides us with the gleaming and emotional wrecking ball that was completely overlooked in the original."
“Child’s Play” opens on a high note with a striking setup that tries to explain why Chucky 2.0 becomes a single-minded, malevolent AI doll. The narration is flawed but it creativity
holds your intrigue with echoes of “Black Mirror” stamped all over it. When the film eventually gets back on the track of updating the source material we come full circle; the third act is like any other unabashed horror reboot but manages to meld its below-average stock characters and excessive gore surprisingly well.
Directed by Lars Klevberg and written by Tyler Burton Smith, the “Child’s Play” remake plot needs no explaining, but this time around the film’s concept leans more towards the “Stranger Things” trend, saddling our young hero, Andy (Gabriel Michael Bateman), with a bunch of characters to buddy up with when body parts hit the Kaslan Corporation fan. Andy’s mother, Karen, played by Aubrey Plaza, has little to do; she’s a working girl whose gotta pay the rent and is there simply to inch the story along. However, when Plaza is on screen her deadpan delivery is as always enjoyable to watch. Plaza is paired with David Lewis, who plays Shane, a douchebag who’s not a big fan of Andy. His one-dimensional character as Karen’s boyfriend consists of intimating he and Plaza have just done the dirty or of grabbing another beer from the fridge, followed by a Paul Serone (Jon Voight, “Anaconda”) stare. Sure, he treads a nicely wonky line between a goofy sleaze and evil stepfather, but we have come to expect more from a “Child’s Play” movie that has given us such douchebag characters as Miss Kettlewell (“Child’s Play 2”), Shelton (“Child’s Play 3”) and Chief Warren Kincaid (“Bride of Chucky”). The closest we come to a traditional Don Mancini character is Gabe, played by Trent Redekop, who soups up the abandoned doll to sell on eBay. His attempts at mending Buddi’s glitches only lead to more catastrophic consequences and he’s quickly dispatched in the most gruesome manner.
The strongest element of “Childs Play 2.0” isn’t the fragmented homicidal ginger-haired rubber rascal’s murderous rampage, his confused origins or the forced satire of the digital era and millennial consumerism; it is the grounded relationship between Andy and Buddi. The bond is a slow build for the relatively fast-paced movie and the friendless, hard-of-hearing teen begins to rely more and more on his glitching doll, who is programmed to love his owner no matter what. And in turn such programming provides the obvious weirdness that mostly goes unacknowledged, but no sooner does Andy become pals with the local one-dimensional stock characters by virtue of his AI toy than Buddi becomes a creaky museum relic and high jinks ensue. Buddi becomes increasingly obsessed with Andy and his new friendships. Granted, he’s supposed to be creepy at the beginning, but then, as he yearns for Andy’s sole attention, and is now privy to violence thanks to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”, he just gets creepier than ever.
It’s Smith’s writing approach to Buddi’s programming that provides us with the gleaming and emotional wrecking ball that was completely overlooked in the original. Smith’s fresh direction to Andy and Buddi’s friendship is heart-wrenching at times, especially during the scene where Buddi is faced with abandonment issues followed by violence at the hands of Gabe. It’s Buddi’s never-breaking bond woven into the horror background that sets this film apart from its predecessors in Don Mancini’s canon, and it’s a successful injection of originality I found appealing.
The chief issue with the “Child’s Play” reimagining is Chucky himself and his origins. Removing the supernatural possession that powered the original doll in ’88 is all well and good and having an AI killer doll is certainly a strong premise, but Klevberg and Smith fail to realise the idea to its full potential. When Chucky malfunctions because a disgruntled employee of a Vietnamese sweatshop deliberately switches off the safety mechanisms we are left with more questions than answers. Had we been given Gabe’s half-baked reasoning as the film’s opening instead of the current incarnation these questions would have immediately been answered but evidently we weren’t and it was a wasted opportunity to explain why we get a doll that gives an all-new meaning to fatal attraction.
Besides the confusing origin another major issue is the look of the doll. Chucky’s design is just as important as in any of the “Child’s Play” stories. He’s the reason we keep returning because Chucky is an entirely unique brand. For decades I’ve wanted a screen-accurate Good Guys doll and this year I eventually got one, thanks to Trick or Treat Studios, and when he arrived all my birthdays and Christmases came at once. In this movie Chucky looks cheap and unconvincing – yes, that may be part of the long-running gag that began in ’88 (ugly doll), but it doesn’t help the doll invoke terror when lashings of gore is thrown directly at the screen. I have the same complaint with “Curse of Chucky” and “Cult”, which did mildly improve on Chucky’s overall declining features. When I think ‘Chucky’ I think “Childs Play 1, 2, 3” and “Bride of Chucky”. I also include “Seed” as it continued with Bride’s design, the infamous stitched look that quickly became part of contemporary popular culture.
Besides the doll’s uninspired bootleg look there has been much said about Hamill being given unadventurous dialogue, but I genuinely felt that was one thing Smith got right. How fast can an AI device learn? He’s an app-controlled product, and just like the home hub it takes time for it to increase its intelligence. Within 90 minutes of the reboot’s running time Chucky has learned how to intercept social circles, murder at will, control all Kaslan technology and develop an ET glowing finger. In my book that’s way too smart way too fast, but his quips are fitting for a toy that is still developing.
“Child’s Play 2.0” isn’t the failure many, including myself, thought it would be, but it’s not the success the studio had hoped for. The quick turnaround, reshoots and Buddi’s look have hindered a film that could have reinvented a series that lost its way in 2004. Director Lars Klevberg and writer by Tyler Burton Smith have managed to give the doll a heart but the confused questions are beating much louder. Fix the model and tweak the concept and I’ll be back for a sequel.