Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

Adventures in Babysitting (1987) movie poster

director Chris Columbus
viewed: 01/10/2014

When queried about what type of film he wanted to watch this night, Felix suggested “An Eighties comedy,” of all things.  And oddly enough, in my Netflix streaming queue, I had one such thing readily available, Chris Columbus’s directorial debut from 1987, Adventures in Babysitting, which I had never seen.  But I had recalled that it was popular at the time and I also thought it was supposed to be pretty good (which is why I had it there in the first place.)

But you know something?  It turns out that it’s pretty freaking awful.

It is quintessentially an Eighties teen comedy.  It opens on star Elisabeth Shue, who plays Chris, dancing to the big sound of the Phil Spector-produced number by The Crystals, “Then He Kissed Me.”  Lip-syncing dance numbers are indeed quintessentially Eighties.  She’s planning a date with her beau who winds up canceling on her, making her available to babysit teenage boy, his kid sister and his best friend.

The film’s concepts and plot elements are extremely contrived, to the point of awe-inspiring weirdness.

Chris’s best friend, Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller), suddenly calls up.  She’s run away from home (randomly) and is in the Chicago bus station with no money.  Why she ran away from home is a mystery.  Why she ran away to Chicago with no money is never explained.  She appears in an earlier scene as a normal, level-headed teenager.  But she gives the story its opening to an odyssey of babysitter and kids in the big city adventure of chaos and mayhem.

The most head-scratching elements include the kid sister Sara’s (Maia Brewton) obsession with the comic book character Thor.  This is 1987.  Thor is really not a particularly compelling character, doesn’t have his movie franchise, but somehow you’ve got a nine year old girl whose room is covered in Thor drawings and merchandise and sports a Thor helmet, cape and hammer.  It’s truly bizarre, but leads to an inevitable encounter with a Thor lookalike in the city.

There is the quartet’s encounter with a car thief, a chop shop, and gangsters that leads them to effect an escape through a convenient hole in the roof, walking across rafter beams above it all.  If you like deus ex machina plot twists, this movie might be right up your alley.

The most painful scene includes the gang escaping through an all black blues club, where they wind up onstage and have to sing “The Babysitting Blues.”  It’s the kind of scenario too contrived for the likes of television’s Full House or Saved by the Bell.

The cast is not particularly stellar.  Shue is passable at best.  Of the kids, Maia Brewton as the Thor-obsessed little girl is maybe the best.  Brother Brad (Keith Coogan) is okay, but his friend Daryl (Anthony Rapp) is downright annoying.

And as out-and-out bad as this movie is (trust me, it’s terrible), it does have a handful of good jokes and funny moments speckled among its numerous duds, convoluted scenarios, and overt predictability.

The film’s portrait of Chicago would probably have irked John Hughes, specialized in showing his appreciation for the city.  “The City” — at first we don’t even know what city it is they are referring to in their bland suburban landscape (it turns out that the suburbs were filmed in Toronto, along with a handful of other locations, filling in, I suppose, when Chicago itself didn’t offer the right settings?) — it is the Big City as cesspool, with street gangs, hook-handed truck drivers with handguns, street gangs rumbling on elevated streetcars, and a rat and thief infested bus station.

As awful as it was, we kind of enjoyed it, noting the absurdity of things throughout, laughing occasionally with the film while most of the time kind of at the film.    A box office success in its day, it currently holds a 76% “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.8 out of 10 at imdb, which is the only reason that I’ll say it again for your benefit:  THE MOVIE IS AWFUL!

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