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Adults are the idiots in tale of two kiddies
By Rob Salem Toronto Star

Ferris Bueller (as in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) is a smart, sophisticated 17-year-old high school senior with uncanny charisma. Paul Stephens (The Manhattan Project) is a smart, sophisticated 17-year-old high school senior with a homemade nuclear bomb.

God forbid these two should ever get together. They'd take over the world.

Yes, boys and girls, school is out and it is time once again to strike out at all things adult. And who better to do it than bright lads like Ferris and Paul, both of them precisely the sort of kid your parents would warn you to stay away from, if only they knew.

But they have those idiot adults completely fooled, these clever young dudes. Like Leave It To Beaver's Eddie Haskell, when there's somebody over 30 in the room it's "My, that's a lovely outfit you're wearing today, Mrs. Cleaver." And as soon as they've gone, it's "Hey Wally, I'll bet we can drive your dad's car all the way to Florida and back before he gets home from work."

Of course, Ward and June Cleaver weren't fooled for a second - they knew Eddie was scum. But that was the 1950s, a time when, if you can believe it, parents were actually thought to be smarter than their children. Now, of course, we know better.

John Hughes grew up in the Leave It To Beaver era. Which might explain why the writer/director/producer of such teen market hits as 16 Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink has such a problem with authority figures. Perhaps as a reaction to the parental perfection of Ward and June and their '50s sitcom ilk, he has yet to include a single adult character in any of his movies capable of handling day-to-day existence, let alone the raising of children.

Like poor, gullible Tom and Katie Bueller (Lyman Ward, Cindy Pickett), resident inept parents of Hughes' newest bratflick, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. They're such well-meaning dolts one wonders how they got the genes together to produce the world's smartest, best-dressed, most charismatic and all-around perfect teenager.

Ferris Bueller, played by Matthew Broderick with more charm than he deserves, would appear to be the most beloved figure in Chicago. When he calls in to school sick one day - in order to take his girlfriend (Mia Sara) and his "poor little rich kid" best pal (Alan Ruck) on an aimless rant through town - the entire city worries about his health.

And when he jumps aboard a float in a German-American parade to lip-synch to The Beatles' "Twist And Shout," the entire city turns out to cheer him on.

Essentially, anything Ferris wants, Ferris gets. Which is just as well, because he already has just about anything he might want, anyway, like the love of the cutest, richest girl in school and a bedroom crammed with only the best in audio and computer components.

Alas, this leaves very little room for character or plot development, not to mention audience identification. What passes for character motivation comes in the form of smug little asides Ferris delivers into the camera, a device better employed by Woody Allen, though it is occasionally effective here.

None of which has any bearing on the sheer entertainment value of Ferris Bueller, which is considerable, mostly thanks to the combination of Hughes' knack for verbal humor and Broderick's seamless delivery. It is the most surreal Hughes movie yet, and thus the most disjointed, but there are some truly memorable comic moments buried here. Hughes' customary teen angst is kept to a minimum, allowing the very talented Broderick free reign to repeatedly steal the show.

Strangely enough, Broderick also casts a shadow over The Manhattan Project, another bratflick of sorts, this one about a kid and his bomb. This smartass teen genius, the aformentioned Paul Stephens (Christopher Collet), is really just a clone of Broderick as David Lightman, the smartass teen genius in WarGames.

Except that Broderick did it first, and better. It's not that Collet is bad, or even unconvincing. It's the simple fact that The Manhattan Project is a poorly conceived, amateurishly filmed, all-round dreadful movie.

It defeats even the talents of John Lithgow, who can usually be relied upon in even the most desperate circumstances. Here he is left to flounder with a few good one-liners and the vague notion that his character, an eccentric government scientist, must somehow develop a guilty conscience before the final credits roll.

And to help him along, we have that crazy kid Paul, who, just to prove a point, steals some plutonium and builds himself a functional nuclear bomb out of digital clocks, portable tape decks and a Mechano set. Better yet, he tries to enter the thing in the state science fair.

Director/co-writer Marshall Brickman has managed to make this hackneyed, predictable story even worse than it sounds. The pace is unbelievably erratic - from long, lingering shots of nothing in particular to short, choppy, abbreviated action sequences edited to the point where they defy logic.

But who needs logic when you're a teen genius? Certainly not Paul, who gets both the bomb and the girl (Cynthia Nixon) and, yes, even manages to teach those stupid authority figures a thing or two about underestimating the youth of today. Like Ferris Bueller, beneath this clean-cut, well-behaved exterior there beats the heart of a true adolescent anarchist.

So there you go, kids, our lesson for the day. If you can't con your parents or charm them into submission, you can always threaten to atomize the entire block with a homemade warhead.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Starring Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck and Mia Sara, written and directed by John Hughes. At the Plaza (Bloor at Yonge, 964-2555) PG.

The Manhattan Project

Starring John Lithgow, Christopher Collet and Cynthia Nixon, screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Thomas Baum, directed by Marshall Brickman. At the Uptown (Yonge at Bloor, 964-2555). PG.