December 1, 1990

Kindergarten Cop

"If you don't stop screwing around back there,
this is what I'm going to do to you"
[snaps pencil in half]
This is the world of televised entertainment in 2015: between my cable television, my two-tuner TiVo, all the streaming options on my Roku, and my big DVD library, I can watch pretty much whatever I want, from whenever I want. So why do I channel-surf for movies on basic cable, the most retro of all my choices? I wish I could honestly say "it's refreshingly retro" or "I love the element of surprise" but that would be self-flattering and only half right: I'm also lazy and indecisive. Yes, movies on TV with commercials is retro, and the only concession to my 21st century tech is the dual tuner TiVo- instead of watching just one movie on cable TV, I watch two movies with the TiVo's two tuners. For example, last night I set Tuner 1 to Jurassic Park, then set Tuner 2 to Kindergarten Cop. When the first bloated commercial break arrived, I paused Kindergarten Cop, switched to Jurassic Park, and watched some of the movie saved in the TiVo's 30 minute digital buffer. If you're deft with the DVR controls, you can watch most of two movies without sitting through any commercial breaks.
I saw Jurassic Park in the sold out Cheri Theater in Boston in 1993, and since then I've seen JP at least once a year on home video (first I owned the JP laserdisc, after I sold all my laserdiscs I bought JP again on DVD with DTS audio), plus that summer of 1994 when it was on a continuous loop at the laserdisc video store where I worked. It's been nearly 20 years since I was hired at that video store, so I think it's fair to say I've seen Jurassic Park 25 times?
My history of Kindergarten Cop is much simpler- I saw it in the theater in December 1990 and I didn't see it again until last night, 24 years later.
Directed by Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Twins) and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of his superstardom, Kindergarten Cop is a sloppy mix of tone and genre which shows the limits of Arnold's acting ability while including some memorably funny and iconic moments.
The intention of the production could not be more clear- After starring in a string of nine action movies, Schwarzenegger made two comedies with Ivan Reitman -- Twins came first -- in order to expand his range, his audience, and his marketability. However, Kindergarten Cop is not a straight comedy so much as an awkward mix of PG-13 cop thriller, G-rated family comedy, and TV-movie melodrama.
This movie is so old, they still took on-set
publicity stills with black-and-white film.

Before Arnold strides into the kindergarten classroom like Colossus standing over Rhodes, he's narcotics detective John Kimble, obsessed with busting drug kingpin Cullen Crisp. Just after the opening credits end (remember opening credits?) Crisp shoots a street rat in cold blood to cover his tracks while the rat's junkie girlfriend witnesses the murder from the shadows. Already the movie is PG-13 and we're barely 5 minutes in! The first 15 minutes is all cop movie procedural, with plenty of gunfire, physical abuse, and drug references...and a small amount of levity sprinkled in.
More plot machinations get Kimble into the kindergarten classroom in Astoria, Oregon (yes, the same town as The Goonies and Short Circuit). While the children are busy saying the darnedest things, the movie is padded out with very contemporary observations on divorce, child abuse, spousal abuse, and dating into your 30s. All this is mild and unfunny. Mixed in with the silly children's jokes and the violent opening sequence, the movie's tone is all over the place.
This movie could have been called Arnold & The Divorced Moms: Kimble has to figure out which divorced mom is Crisp's ex-wife:

  • Cathy Moriarty is the obvious Mafia bride type;
  • Jayne Brook is hiding something while her son is withdrawn (Brook went on to a long career in TV, including 100 episodes of Chicago Hope)
  • Penelope Ann Miller's son lets slip some suspicious details. (1990 was the biggest single year in Miller's career- she also had a supporting role in Awakenings, and in The Freshman she also played a Mafia princess)

Arnold has to fall in love, and confess his love to Miller, but his big emotional scene is beyond wooden- this scene begins with his emotional reveal that he's estranged from his own son, and the fake tears they sprinkled in Arnold's eyes are pathetic. It completely fails as drama. I can barely determine what emotion his character is expressing. He follows this by professing his love for Miller and her son, but you'd never know it by looking at him or listening to his voice. As a fan of Arnold's action movies, witnessing these limitations is profoundly odd- his action roles are so well tailored to his strengths, that watching him woodenly flounder in a simple love scene is striking.
The movie concludes with more action violence- Crisp abducts his son, then briefly holds him hostage at gunpoint. Crisp and Kimble are both shot, in front of the kid, and then Crisp's mother is beaten unconscious with a baseball bat by Kimble's partner (a hilarious Pamela Reed.)
So it's not a family movie- it's a PG-13 movie that bolts together a find-the-witness detective story, a bunch of sappy divorce and abuse subplots, and it happens to have some family-friendly jokes in the middle.
CAST NOTES: Arnold and Ivan Reitman get to cast great talent: I already mentioned Oscar nominee Cathy Moriarty, who has two scenes; Oscar winner Linda Hunt is wonderful as the principal; Apparently Angela Bassett (four years away from an Oscar nod) is the stewardess who asks Arnold "is your wife alright?"