Toys (United States, 1992)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The winner of 1992's "worst film to sport a great trailer" is Toys. The good-natured, humorous spots that advertise this film (featuring Robin Williams in a field delivering quirky, amusing one-liners) bear little resemblance the actual product. That's unfortunate, because, at least on the surface, Toys seems to have some potential.

Those seeing this film with the expectation of a "typical" Robin Williams comedy will likely be chagrined. Even viewers anticipating a surreal fantasy may suffer some disappointment. Toys does not look like a Barry Levinson film, nor does it have the substance associated with the director's previous work (Avalon, for example). Instead, it's more like a project that Tim Burton might take the helm on. In fact, there are sequences in Toys that could fit seamlessly into either Batman Returns or Edward Scissorhands.

Toys is an allegory about the relationship between video games and war, and how the business of being an adult often kills the child in us. These simple messages aren't delivered with any subtlety, and, aside from giving the special effects people a chance to show off their wares, they appear to be the only reason for the movie. Levinson, normally a master of characterization, has abandoned his trademark style here. Instead, he fashions single-dimensional characters with simple personalities. The lack of complex individuals is apparently intended as a device by which the film's themes can be more easily highlighted, but the negative aspects of this method outweigh the positives. The absence of viable characters hurts Toys from the outset.

Toys tells the story of Leslie Zevo (Robin Williams), an adult with an eccentric, childish personality. Because Leslie seems totally unsuited to running the family toy-making business, his dying father (Donald O'Connor) wills it to the General (Michael Gambon), Leslie's stern, unforgiving uncle. Once the General comes into power, he changes the company's output from dolls and harmless playthings to "war toys." Only then do both Leslie and his sister, Alsatia (Joan Cusack), take a belated interest in the company their father created.

The script is a problem. It's mundane when it should be magical. The lighthearted fantasy meanders for ninety minutes before suddenly and unexpectedly turning into an action-packed live video game. Of all the actors, only Michael Gambon (The Singing Detective) and Joan Cusack (My Blue Heaven) hold their own. Gambon frowns his way through his role as a villainous straight man and Cusack is delightfully off-the-wall as Leslie's flaky sister. Robin Williams is typically over-the-top, but, except in a few instances, his unfocused, uncontrolled mania isn't funny. The boundless energy is there, but the spark to ignite it is missing. Robin Wright, most recently of The Playboys, is singularly ineffective as Leslie's love interest.

Admittedly, are some nice things about Toys. Its sense of atmosphere is strong but not overpowering. The opening musical number ("The Closing of the Year") is a fine song, the score is catchy, and the art direction and set design are striking. The inside of the toy factory is a marvel to behold. And, on those occasions when the satire is on-target, it is bitingly funny.

Alas, Toys has too many flaws to go down as anything better than a mixed bag. It's visually and audibly impressive, but, beneath the surface glow, there's too little substance. Instead of elevating the film's comic level with a finely-tuned performance, Williams nearly torpedoes the proceedings with his antics. True to its nature as a fantasy, Toys doesn't dwell on any heavy or maudlin issues, but the message it champions might have reached a wider audience had the vehicle of its presentation been more entertaining.

Toys (United States, 1992)

Run Time: 2:01
U.S. Release Date: 1992-12-18
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Mature Themes)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: