Monday 12 June 2017

Movie Review: Adventures In Babysitting (1987)

A teen adventure comedy, Adventures In Babysitting enjoys a wacky ride through urban hazards, boosted by an appealing Elisabeth Shue lead performance.

In a leafy suburb of Chicago, high school senior Chris Parker (Shue) is anticipating a big date with her boyfriend, but he makes a lame excuse and cancels. Chris then reluctantly agrees to babysit the neighbourhood kids, 15 year old Brad Anderson (Keith Coogan) and his 8 year old sister Sara (Maia Brewton). Brad has a crush on Chris, and his friend Daryl (Anthony Rapp) ends up hanging around as well. The evening starts out as routine but soon Chris receives a frantic phone call from her friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller), who is stranded at the downtown bus station and in need of rescue.

Chris drags the three kids into her mother's station wagon and heads into the jungle. A flat tire on the freeway initiates an encounter with tow truck driver John Pruitt (John Ford Noonan), setting off a series of wild events including witnessing a stormy domestic dispute, an encounter with car thief Joe Gipp (Calvin Levels), an unwanted detour to a car chop shop where hissing villains await, and a chance meeting with dreamy college kid Dan Lynch (George Newbern). And Chris' resemblance to the latest Playboy magazine's centrefold model just adds to the night's insanity.

Written by David Simkins and featuring the directorial debut of Chris Columbus, Adventures In Babysitting is smart, sharp and funny. Adapting for a teen audience the "one crazy night" premise of 1985's Into The Night and After Hours, the film quickly establishes the dynamics between babysitter and kids, and then piles on the mishaps and laughs as Chris and her troop venture well outside their comfort zone. There is just enough edge to the events of the night to maintain an enjoyable amount of tension without ever threatening to alienate younger audience members.

Columbus plays up the central theme of downtown as a dangerous and unknown place that may as well be on a distant planet for a bunch of suburban kids ill-equipped for the perils of a concrete jungle. Chris' happy and sunny disposition belongs in the suburbs, and she has to learn on the fly to survive encounters with hardened inner city people, places and events. She maintains her composure and keeps a regime of discipline among Brad, Daryl and Sara, her coping techniques providing the film with plenty of charm.

Elisabeth Shue delivers one of the best performances of her career, defining Chris as a capable and resourceful teen, grounded enough to maintain sanity but capable of taking risks to get out of jams. Columbus and Shue combine to deliver the film's highlight, an unexpected appearance on an intimidating blues bar stage that turns into an impromptu improvised song performance by Chris and her charges.

The three kids are given their own personalities to liven up the night. Brad is star-struck as he nurses an understandable crush on his perfect girl-next-door babysitter. Daryl is more down to earth and up for trouble. Young Sara is just having a blast enjoying the best night of her young life, her obsession with comic hero Thor about to pay dividends in the unlikeliest of settings as Vincent D'Onofrio nails a mythical entrance to place an exclamation point on proceedings.

Every parent's too-nutty-to-happen nightmare, Adventures In Babysitting is madcap entertainment.

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