Toys (1992)

reviewed by
David Vessell

                       A film review by David Vessell
                        Copyright 1992 David Vessell

Ahort! My first non-music review. Be patient with me.

TOYS [PG-13]
Robin Williams, Michael Gambon, Joan Cusack, Robin Wright, LL Cool J.
dir. Barry Levinson

Visuals can fool a person into liking a mediocre movie. Hell, I fell hook, line, and sinker for THE LAWNMOWER MAN despite Brosnan and Fahey's embarrassingly bad acting. Long, long ago, I fell for TRON, which is practically devoid of plot. Visuals cannot rescue a movie with neither acting nor a plot. Makes sense, I think.

TOYS does not lack for acting, and the plot is no more groundless than your typical Tim Burton movie. But for some reason, I walked out of the theatre after seeing TOYS feeling less than satisfied.

The general plot goes something like this: Robin Williams is Leslie Zevo, the gently eccentric son of the gently eccentric owner of Zevo Toys who kicks off and leaves the business to his brother, a career military man played by Michael Gambon. Gambon is as eccentric as his deceased brother, but in a much less gentle way, and proceeds to transform the previously light-hearted toy factory into a security-paranoid breeding ground for war toys, real and imagined. The movie eventually leads to a confrontation between Williams and Gambon and...well, go spend your five if you really need to know what goes from here.

Joan Cusack plays Leslie's outer-orbit sister Alsatia, Robin Wright plays a worker who Leslie falls for (and vice versa), and LL Cool J plays Gambon's son, Leslie's cousin. The race thing is never addressed, which is probably just as well, as it leaves an amusing mystery amongst an already heavy suspension of reality.

Individual kudos go to Joan Cusack and LL Cool J. Cusack sparkles as the gentle little-girl space cadet. It would have been all too easy to play Alsatia as a typical slapstick ditz, but instead her characterization suggests a sharp, insightful eccentric. LL Cool J, obviously not an actor by trade, turns in a respectable if amateur performance as the too-serious paramilitary nut who finds it necessary to camouflage himself as a pile of couch cushions when visiting family. Of course, J is a captive of the script and doesn't add all that much to the character, but his deadpan delivery is charming.

It's not that Robin Williams did a bad job, just that he didn't do a spectacular job. After seeing him in GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM and ALADDIN, one expects energy and sheer crazed but tightly controlled chaos. Williams's performance here features small, confined burst of that same mania but Levinson doesn't quite give him enough slack to really sparkle. Williams is also undermined by the script, which starts out strong but crumbles right in the middle of the movie's climax.

Michael Gambon turns in a good role as the evil military man who takes his toys a few steps too far. Though his character grows more and more ridiculous as the movie wears on, Gambon holds you and you accept it. Though his funny moments in the movie are few and far between, he makes the most of them, particularly the scene where he approaches his invalid, mush-mouthed father for advice on whether or not to take over the company.

Robin Wright is fun to look at, and she does a competent job of playing Williams's love interest, but that's about it.

Did I mention visuals? The toys, the mammoth factory sets, the incredible shrinking room where Williams consults with his R&D team on fake vomit, the computer animation. Though the movie is not the special effect tour de force that THE LAWNMOWER MAN was, it doesn't need to be. But the visuals and cinematography make you feel wide open and claustrophobic at all the right times.

One aspect of the movie that most people are bound to miss is the excellent soundtrack. Hans Zimmer and Trevor Horn provide most of the incidental music and write a good portion of the songs used. Wendy and Lisa provide "The Closing of the Year," which starts as a gentle Christmas song and jumps into grand orchestral children's choir funk stomp mode soon after. Pat Metheny lends his guitar to another gentle instrumental (the title of which I can't for the life of me recall), which metamorphoses into a hauntingly weird operatic number once Grace Jones's vocals join it later. But the soundtrack is made by two absolutely excellent tracks, "Happy Workers" by Tori Amos (yes, Tori completists have another album to buy) and "The Mirror Song" by Thomas Dolby. The former accompanies the first panoramic factory scene, the latter used in a mock music video staged by Leslie and Alsatia and is probably the best song Dolby has done in years.

Well, wrap it all up together and what do you get? Eh. The movie starts out great, then stalls, then gains momentum as the confrontation between Williams and Gambon begins, then crashes horribly on the ending. The ending is what ruins the movie. Too bad, because otherwise TOYS would be a movie talked about for years to come. Without the ending, TOYS would have rated a +3 on the davE scale. Instead....

davE rating: +1
(davE scale -5 to +5 linear)

-- *davE* Making the world safe for intelligent dance music. ########## David L. Vessell -- Bradley University Computing Services #########


The review above was posted to the newsgroup ( for German reviews).
The Internet Movie Database accepts no responsibility for the contents of the review and has no editorial control. Unless stated otherwise, the copyright belongs to the author.
Please direct comments/criticisms of the review to relevant newsgroups.
Broken URLs in the reviews are the responsibility of the author.
The formatting of the review is likely to differ from the original due to ASCII to HTML conversion.

Related links: index of all reviews