Paramount // 1985 // 100 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 15th, 2004
The kids next door is not who -- or what -- he seems to be!
A mid '80s family film about an enigmatic young boy who just shows up in a small town, and is revealed to be a Little League homerun champion, a master of Pole Position, a computer hacker with no equal, and a charmer who swept Lenny from Laverne and Shirley off his feet.
The film opens with a helicopter/car chase through the mountains of Virginia. Who's doing the chasing? Who's doing the fleeing? Before the car goes flying off a cliff, a young boy escapes, and is picked up by a local hick. Suddenly, the boy, Daryl (Barrett Oliver, Cocoon), finds himself in a strange town, with no memory of who he is and where he came from.
Eventually, Daryl ends up in the loving surroundings of the Richardsons, a young family eager to adopt and raise Daryl as their son. Andy Richardson (Michael McKean, Best in Show) is wowed by Daryl's genius-like skills. He knocks baseballs out of the park, is a genius at the piano, and can reprogram ATMs to bulk up checking accounts by $1 million.
So what's with this kid?
When Daryl's real parents (or so they claim) show up, Daryl is brought to a top-secret military research facility, where the boy's true nature and purpose is revealed. Science and humanity collide, with a little bit of red-blooded Army callousness tossed in, and Daryl is caught in the middle. Now he is possessed with a drive to survive, and reclaim the Norman Rockwellian life he had tasted so briefly.
While not a terribly original idea for a family movie, especially for the '80s -- the extraordinary outsider finding love with some saps -- D.A.R.Y.L. manages to check enough boxes to make it a worthwhile PG outing.
Though the acting is pretty wooden (except for McKean), and the plot is preposterous, there's enough fat-free stuff here to give your sensitive kids a nice case of the googly-mooglies. Lament as Daryl is ostracized from the regular kids. Applaud as he validates his stature as a cool kid with his dominant plate appearance in the Little League game! Gasp at his dominant performance in Pole Position! (Which, of course, later resurfaces in typically cheesy way...) Weep as -- nah, I won't ruin it.
D.A.R.Y.L. follows the same game plan as other movies of its ilk (e.g. E.T. and Short Circuit), making our misunderstood hero the victim of the United States military's all-consuming desire to forego any and all shreds of decency in search of the ultimate weapon.
And thus the resistance of the protagonist, which leads into a minimally action-packed getaway. Here, Daryl displays his driving finesse (let's see if you've been paying attention: finesse learned from where?) in a surprisingly slam-bang chase sequence.
If this movie were made today, it would almost certainly garner a PG-13 rating. It falls into the category of "edgy" family movies, where the kids swore up and down and some violence was to be had. A theme in the film is Daryl and his friend Turtle's discussion about how Turtle's sister may be a hooker. One surreal slice of dialogue involves Turtle joking around on a walkie-talkie about rape. And of course you need a death scene, and D.A.R.Y.L. doesn't disappoint. A major character dies in another major character's arms, which should elicit some sniffles.
The film holds off on unveiling Daryl's secret until the middle third, but the tagline on the DVD case lets the cat out of the bag by explaining the titular acronym. This was goofy, as it was obvious the filmmakers wanted to build some suspense with his identity. Stupid packaging.
The movie boasts a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer, which, considering the barren wasteland that is the bonus material, Paramount probably didn't have to go and do. But it's appreciated, and it looks fine, despite some real grainy bits here and there. A 2.0 Dolby Digital mix holds fast through most of the film, despite underperforming in the chase scenes.
A formulaic slice of family entertainment that doesn't do much new, but follows the blueprint well enough to warrant a look. Oh, and I almost forgot -- the kid flies a stealth bomber!
Guilty of Emboldening the Human Spirit in the first degree.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated PG