A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 580 – Toy Soldiers

Toy Soldiers – October 1st, 2011

Have I admitted yet that I had a bit of a thing for Wesley Crusher when I was a kid? Because I totally did. When Star Trek: The Next Generation started airing I was just the right age to develop a crush and I already had precedent when it came to crushing on math/engineering geeks what with my thing for Adric on Doctor Who. So anyhow, Wesley Crusher. Loved the character. And subsequently loved the actor playing him: Wil Wheaton. I never bought teen magazines with those cheesy covers and posters and whatnot, but I did stop whenever I saw him on my television screen. This continued for years. And that is why prior to tonight I had already seen this movie in full. After all, he plays one of the main characters! We’d considered saving this for Wheaton’s birthday (we would have watched it during PAX East this year but he wasn’t in attendance) but then we realized we’re going to be done with the project by then. So! Here we go!

This movie baffles me, really. Mostly because it has this cast full of fresh young actors hot off the pages of Teen Beat (check it out), and yet it’s an action movie with a drug-running crime syndicate coming up out of Mexico to take a boarding school full of kids hostage. The genre says “market me to teenage boys” but the cast says “girls will swoon” and I don’t have nearly enough faith in the movie industry to think that someone intentionally made an action movie for teen and pre-teen girls or teen and pre-teen gay boys. Not that it wouldn’t be appealing! I mean, the main cast spends a considerable amount of time standing around in their underwear. I’m just saying, much as I appreciated it, I don’t for one minute believe that sort of thought was put into this movie. At best, I can imagine the studio figuring girls wouldn’t mind going to see it with their dates. Maybe I’m wrong. If so? I salute you, TriStar. Way to buck the system.

Anyhow, this is indeed an action movie. Crime lord Luis Cali opens the movie by taking over a courtroom in somewhere I assume is central American and holding innocent people hostage while demanding that his father (also a criminal) be released. Turns out his father had already been extradited to the US, so he kills some hostages and takes off to go to the US and take some more hostages there. He heads for the boarding school where the son of the judge on his father’s case is currently a student. But once more he’s beaten to the punch and the judge’s son has already left school and is in a safe house somewhere. He takes over the entire school to get his hands on the kid, so when said kid isn’t there he simply decides to stick around and hold the entire student body and faculty hostage instead. He gives the government a limited amount of time, after which he says he’ll start executing students. He sets up a series of charges that he can detonate remotely and puts his men on the rooftops to keep an eye on the entrances to the school. And then he settles in, with the headmaster (played by Denholm Elliott) babysitting the boys in between hourly counts to make sure no one’s escaped.

So where are the aforementioned teen stars? They’re the rebellious students of the school, of course. Billy Tepper, played by Sean Astin, is the underachieving leader of the group. Wil Wheaton plays his roommate, Joey Trotta, and together with their friends Snuffy, Ricardo and Hank they play pranks and get in trouble. I’ll be flat out honest here and admit I don’t at all remember what distinguishes Ricardo and Hank from the others aside from that they’re the token ethnic characters. Snuffy’s got allergies (hence the nickname) and tends to be more cautious and nervous than the others. Really, it’s Billy and Joey who are the ones given the most character background, Billy because he’s the main character and Joey because his family is a key part of the plot later on.

The rest of the movie involves Cali and his gang threatening people and Billy and his gang making plans. Louis Gossett Jr., the school’s Dean of Students (I assume) was in town when Cali showed up, so there will be no badassery from him. Which is kind of funny. You see Louis Gossett Jr. and you see him set up to be this sort of tough love faculty member who’s wise to all the tricks Billy & co. pull and he’s Louis Gossett Jr.! And then he spends most of the movie pissed off in a tent while the military monitors the school. Poor guy. Meanwhile, inside the school the boys are scheming. They’re sneaking through air ducts to count the number of gang members and weapons. They’re drawing portraits of their captors. They are, in short, gathering intelligence in the hopes of an eventual revolt. Using his prank-based knowledge of the school, Billy escapes to bring said intelligence to the military and the Dean. He makes it back just in time for the hourly count.

You would think, given the set-up, that the outcome of all of this would be that the boys would successfully manage to overthrow the baddies and retake the school, right? Yeah, that’s not in the cards. Instead there’s a whole additional plotline where Joey’s father – who, it turns out, is a big time mob boss and played by Jerry Orbach – tries to make a deal and get Cali’s father out, then has him whacked instead when Bad Things Happen in the school and he gets wind of it. It’s sort of out of left field, except that Joey’s resentment of his father’s mob ties is played up a few times beforehand.

It’s a bit of a roller coaster towards the end, and I don’t mean the sort that makes you wet your pants or scream strings of obscenities for the entire ride. I mean the sort that’s fun and whips you around a little and sends you up and down and around a corner or two, but which ultimately wasn’t all that scary. There are several bits that seem like the movie’s coming to an end except then it doesn’t and more happens after. But in the end it’s really not a bad movie. A little strange, a little sloppy, but fun all the same.

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October 1, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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