Junior (United States, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The new Ivan Reitman/Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy is a one-joke affair, and it takes surprisingly little time for the potential humor in the situation to wear thin. As a result, the viewer is left with about ninety minutes of suffering through Schwarzenegger's attempts to act -- certainly not his strong suit. Put simply, Junior demands more range from its leading man than he's capable of giving. The predictable result is a big-budget mess more likely to elicit groans than laughter.

Even suspending all semblance of disbelief doesn't make this film work. It is so poorly-constructed that a viewer has to go into a catatonic state to appreciate what's happening on screen. You don't expect high art from a Reitman production, especially when Arnold is the big draw, but this kind of unrepentant idiocy is unforgivable. Twins and Kindergarten Cop weren't great movies, but they had a lot more going for them.

The story revolves around the fertility team of Alexander Hesse (Schwarzenegger) and his diminutive partner, Larry Arbogast (Danny DeVito). These two don't really like each other, but each is willing to put up with a lot for the sake of their research -- a new wonder drug designed to reduce, if not eliminate, miscarriages. However, when the drug doesn't obtain FDA approval, Hesse and Arbogast are displaced from their laboratory so that the space can be given to Dr. Diana Reddin (Emma Thompson), whose work involves frozen eggs. Undaunted, the two scientists decide to continue their experiments, this time using a human test case. So, after some prompting from his partner, Hesse fertilizes one of Reddin's cryogenically-preserved eggs and implants it in his abdominal cavity. Now, he's pregnant. (Does that make him daddy, mommy, or both?)

I won't deny that the premise has comic potential, albeit of an unsophisticated sort. The problem is that the trite script fails to capitalize on opportunities, relying instead on worn-out cliches and jokes that are, for the most part, unfunny (there are a few notable exceptions -- I admit to laughing once in a while).

Junior contains a couple of pointless subplots that serve only to stretch the running length to an almost-unendurable one-hundred nine minutes. The first involves the machinations of an underhanded character (played by Frank Langella) to use this unorthodox experiment for his own gain. The second focuses on Hesse's stay at a maternity retreat, where he's forced to dress in women's clothes. Those that appreciate raw crossdressing humor would do better to view The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (although I suppose there's some appeal in watching Schwarzenegger, looking like a beached whale, in a frock).

The only good thing about Junior is Emma Thompson, but she's far from sufficient to save the film. Her comic aptitude is hardly new (remember The Tall Guy?), but it may come as something of a surprise for those who remember her from only Howards End, The Remains of the Day, and Much Ado about Nothing.

It's astounding how inconsistent Ivan Reitman's work is -- the same man responsible for such enjoyable films as Dave and Ghostbusters also has the dog of a movie Beethoven on his resume. Now, there's Junior, which, in a way, has a subject matter appropriate to its dubious quality. After all, eduring Arnold's labor pains, and all that leads up to them, is something of a painful labor.

Junior (United States, 1994)

Director: Ivan Reitman
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, Emma Thompson, Frank Langella, Pamela Reed
Screenplay: Kevin Wade and Chris Conrad
Cinematography: Adam Greenberg
Music: James Newton Howard
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:49
U.S. Release Date: 1994-11-23
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Mature Themes)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1