Joe Dante tried to recapture a little of his Gremlins box-office success with the 1998 comedy Small Soldiers, but Dante’s darkly puckish humor—coupled with a violent story worked on by a team of screenwriters—resulted in a movie that was a little too off-putting for summer blockbuster season. It’s one of the most Dante-ish of Dante’s films, though: a raucous takedown of the pro-military mindset, filtered through an explosive, effects-heavy action-adventure. When a weapons manufacturer merges with a toy company, its new line of walking, talking, interactive action figures start a war in the suburbs, which Dante stages as a combination of Toy Story and Platoon—and one that’s more straight-faced than the viewer might expect. It’s not a successful film, but Small Soldiers has a lot of fire and ideas, and it features some great character turns, including the last screen performance of Phil Hartman, and voice turns by the likes of Tommy Lee Jones, Frank Langella, Jim Brown, Bruce Dern, Ernest Borgnine, and George Kennedy. It airs on Epix at 8 p.m. Eastern.
November 13, 2014 newsreel