Directed by Bob Clark
Written by Steven Paul et al.
Released March 12, 1999
127 min. • Find on imdb
Review by Dale Jennings
April 7, 1999.
Child actors under ten cannot be judged for their performances as much as their ability to take direction. In view of the fact that there are very few directors who can direct children, the rare instances of a truly good performance are largely fortuitous. In the case of Baby Geniuses it was wholly fortuitous that anyone came off looking good at all.
This situation brings to mind a legendary incident. When asked how he got such a moving performance from Victor McLaglen in The Informer, legend tells us that John Ford replied, “When I told him to look left, he looked left. When I told him to look right, he looked right.”
It seems that the director of Baby Geniuses had no idea whatever of what direction he should tell his actors to look. He seems to have little or no knowledge of children’s behavior and perhaps of people in general. Everything appears to be a first take from a director who was wholly at a loss.
The man next me laughed aloud several times at lines as amusing as, “How’s everything? Have you been out of town?” If I hadn’t known him well, I might have guessed that he was laughing at the production itself. But, no, he thought the whole thing was “spontaneous” and “ingenious.” But then, first-takes often look that way.
This is the sort of film that directors make up as they go along because there is nothing in the vacuous script to work on. The story-line appears late in the film and bows out shortly after. Many of us sat there waiting for something to happen and were quite embarrassed when it finally did. It’s surprising that someone didn’t stand up and shout, “This is a plot?” The reply, coming from behind the camera, might well have been, “Tell him to sit down and shut up. We’re working on it.”
That’s exactly what they seemed to be doing. Even the child-players had the air of wanting something to happen. They didn’t do so badly, by the way, as they tried valiantly to make 0+0 add up to even the smallest digit.
The producers must be commended for simply getting so fragile a piece on film. As I have said so many times in the past, I imagine someone taking this script (and countless others of equal quality) to the Money People and convincing them that it should be filmed. They are to be applauded for being top-grade hypnotists.
And for reading a line aloud that isn’t funny and laughing loudly for the producers, they deserve a brass Oscar for their courage. To get their backing, in spite of all the script’s drawbacks, is sleight-of-hand worthy of a master.
In spite of sitting for two hours and watching a failure grow to half its potential and die, it must be said that is not a truly bad film. You’d have seen worse staying home and watching TV. Baby Geniuses has it’s redeeming features, I’m sure. But it’s late and I’m tired and can’t recall any of them.
April 7, 1999
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