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
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
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
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
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,
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).