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Parents' guide: December 1992

From ”Chaplin” to ”Forever Young,” here’s the scoop on which films are terrific for kids and which are duds

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Parents’ guide: December 1992

Hollywood banks on the assumption that young moviegoers know what they like and like what they know. The surefire child-pleaser The Muppet Christmas Carol, as well as Boris and Natasha, Brenda Starr, and X-Men, feature familiar characters. Even perennial kid-fave Godzilla is back. But the tried-and-true can sometimes ring false. Below, we separate the fine from the flawed.

MOVIES

CHAPLIN
*What It’s About: In this, the year of the biopics, Sir Richard Attenborough tackles Charlie Chaplin. Robert Downey Jr. is remarkable as the legendary star; the film shows his storybook start in show business, his powerhouse impact on filmmaking, and all the tumult in between and after. *Will Kids Want to Watch It? It’s almost 2.5 hours long, and it’s more serious than funny. To really entertain kids, rent the original Chaplin films. *MPAA: PG-13. *Sex/Nudity: Nine shots of bare breasts; a woman’s bare butt; much talk about sex, as well as Chaplin’s paternity suits. *Drugs/Alcohol: A drunken woman harasses Charlie. *Violence/Scariness: There’s the slapstick, of course, plus one scene of a cruel audience tossing things at Charlie’s mom (played by Charlie’s daughter, Geraldine Chaplin) as she sings on stage. *Profanity: About 12 words. *Mature Themes: The influence Charlie’s mentally disturbed mom had on his life; the impact of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt; how being a workaholic can doom one’s relationships.

THE DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN
*What It’s About: Eddie Murphy plays Thomas Jefferson Johnson, a con man who makes a lateral career move by going into politics. Murphy’s funny, but the shaky story line is nothing but a platform for his shtick. *Will Kids Want to Watch It? Not likely. Kids don’t care about politics; also, many kids aren’t all that familiar with Murphy because almost everything he does is R-rated. In addition, parents may not want impressionable children to latch onto the film’s criticism of our system of government. *MPAA: R. *Sex/Nudity: Some serious cleavage; a conversation about sex; sex noises are heard, then we see a congressman having sex with his secretary, though no nudity is shown. *Drugs/Alcohol: Several drinking scenes (it is Washington, after all). *Violence/Scariness: Duck hunting with semi-automatic guns; a car crash injuring a man and a woman; a senator punches an assistant. *Profanity: About 64 words. *Mature Themes: Some topical environmental and health issues are touched upon, as is cancer — but just so that Murphy’s sleazy character will develop a conscience; there is corruption in government (we can only hope this film is more farce than fact).

FOREVER YOUNG
*What It’s About: It’s 1939, and test pilot Mel Gibson, depressed over his girlfriend’s coma, has scientist friend George Wendt put him to sleep for a year for a new cryogenic project. Mel oversleeps by about 50 years. Talk about morning breath! *Will Kids Want to Watch It? That’s a tough call. It’s certainly recommended for kids: a sweet film with a lot of nice interplay between Mel and Elijah Wood, the cutest youngster in films today. On the other hand, kids’ attention may wander: It’s basically a love story, and a slow one at that. *MPAA: PG. *Sex/Nudity: Mel’s naked butt (of course); Jamie Lee Curtis in a bra. *Drugs/Alcohol: None. *Violence/Scariness: Mel’s girlfriend is hit by a car, but we don’t actually see the accident; frozen Mel scares kids in funny scene; former boyfriend hits Jamie Lee and tries to force himself on her sexually; Mel beats him up. *Profanity: About six phrases. *Mature Themes: Don’t be afraid to take a chance, because you may never get the opportunity again; the crazy things we do for love.

LEAP OF FAITH
*What It’s About: Cynic/con man/revivalist evangelist Steve Martin works hard to con money out of the poor believers of Rustwater, Kan., as he struggles with his newly conscientious business manager (Debra Winger), the town’s nonbelieving sheriff (Liam Neeson), and a heart-tugging handicapped boy (Lukas Haas). *Will Kids Want to Watch It? This isn’t a typical Steve Martin movie — which isn’t bad career-wise, but a problem kid-wise. The film is very negative and cynical about God, religion, and emotions. *MPAA: PG-13. *Sex/Nudity: None. *Drugs/Alcohol: Several shots of Martin and others drinking from flasks and bottles. *Violence/Scariness: None. *Profanity: About 18 unholy words are uttered. *Mature Themes: Not only is there a sucker born every minute, but there’s always some crook waiting to take advantage of him; the despicable misuse of religion to swindle people out of their money; the true power of faith.

THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL
*What It’s About: It’s the Dickens story, with Michael Caine as Scrooge and the Muppets as everyone else. *Will Kids Want to Watch It? Hey, hey, they’re the Muppets. Kids aren’t likely to notice or feel the absence of Jim Henson and Richard Hunt (both paid tribute at the beginning of the film), nor will they be bothered by the familiar-sounding songs. In other words, kids’ll love it — much more than their parents. *MPAA: G. *Sex/Nudity: Miss Piggy in a sheer negligee…Not! *Drugs/Alcohol: Not even eggnog. *Violence/Scariness: Actually, things do get a little scary before the appearance of Marley’s ghost, and the porcelain-faced little-girl Ghost of Christmas Past is eerie. Other than that, there’s just the usual Muppet brand of slapstick fun. *Profanity: Just several Bah, humbug’s. *Mature Themes: The foreseen death of Tiny Tim (even though he never really dies); if you’re nice you’re happy, if you’re mean you’re not.

VIDEOS

BOOMERANG
*What It’s About: Womanizing executive Eddie Murphy finds the tables turned on him when he falls for hard-to-get new boss Robin Givens. *Will Kids Want to Watch It? Murphy is in good form, but the film’s subject is too adult and sexually oriented for kids and young teens. *MPAA: R. *Sex/Nudity: An advertising video full of phallic symbols; one post-sex scene with Murphy and a woman in bed (nothing is shown but the woman’s ugly feet); Eartha Kitt seduces Murphy; Grace Jones reveals her butt and a breast and removes her panties while discussing the aroma of sex; Robin Givens in panties and a bra; two sex scenes between Murphy and Givens with a glimpse of her breast; Jones shows Murphy (but not us) her private parts in a restaurant; erotic art displayed in one woman’s apartment. *Drugs/Alcohol: Wine with dinner. *Violence/Scariness: A woman slaps Murphy hard, justifiably. *Profanity: About 51 words. *Mature Themes: One must treat the opposite sex with respect; the difference between actual racist victimization and mere paranoia.

BORIS AND NATASHA: THE MOVIE
*What It’s About: Never has the absence of a moose and a squirrel been so sorely felt. Rocky and Bullwinkle’s inept nemeses Boris Badenov (former McKenzie Brother Dave Thomas) and Natasha Fatale (Sally Kellerman) come to the U.S. to retrieve a time-reversing silicon chip. After this film you’ll wish yo had one, too. *Will Kids Want to Watch It? Unfortunately, yes. But, unlike Bullwinkle, this live-action dud pulls nothing out of its hat. The slapstick might appeal to some kids, although it’s extremely dumb and, even worse, just not funny. *MPAA: PG. *Sex/Nudity: None. *Drugs/Alcohol: Boris gets drunk in a seedy bar. *Violence/Scariness: Bad guys Boris and Natasha are shot at by worse guy; John Candy gets blown up by a grenade; Anthony Newley (what kind of fool is he to be in this mess?) gets shot; a woman is shot in the head; Boris falls from a balcony and is hit by a cab; another taxi explodes; Fearless Leader shoots some guy. *Profanity: About three, comrades. *Mature Themes: None — and no entertainment, either. The TV show was named after Rocky and Bullwinkle for a reason.

BRENDA STARR
*What It’s About: Comic-strip reporter Brenda Starr (Brooke Shields) comes to life (debatably) and sets out to get a scoop on a newly invented superfuel. Her animator (Tony Peck) enters the strip to get her back. He needn’t have bothered. *Will Kids Want to Watch It? No, although parents may want to use it to help kids get to sleep. This is no exclusive, but yes, it’s that bad. *MPAA: PG. *Sex/Nudity: Brenda in a slip; a nude painting in a bar. *Drugs/Alcohol: Two guys down shots in a bar. *Violence/Scariness: Slapstick, inane, or both: a shootout; bad guy takes Brenda hostage; they fall off a fire escape; pirates cut a guy’s arm, then throw him to piranhas; he drags pirate captain in with him; a man is smashed in the face with an oar; another is smashed over the head with a vase; one guy punches another. *Profanity: Eleven words. *Mature Themes: Never hire the star(r)’s mom as executive consultant.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
*What It’s About: Valley Girl Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is called upon to kill some modern-day vampires in this enjoyably campy flick. *Will Kids Want to Watch It? When this was in theaters, teens stayed away despite heartthrob star Luke Perry. But kids and teens alike should find this funny enough to resurrect it on video, especially since it costars Paul ”Pee-wee Herman” Reubens, who simply steals the film in a hilarious death scene. *MPAA: PG-13. *Sex/Nudity: Sex in a car, but you can’t see anything. *Drugs/Alcohol: A few scenes with Perry and a friend drinking, some talk about doing drugs. *Violence/Scariness: Despite impalings galore, this is bloodless stuff: 4 fights; 1 vampire is electrocuted; 10 other vampires and 1 non-vampire are killed by the classic stake-through-the-heart routine; Swanson punches a guy after he throws a knife at her; Perry hits 2 vampires with his van, then (literally) disarms Reubens; Swanson sets a vampire’s hair on fire. *Profanity: About 10 phrases. *Mature Themes: There are more important things in life than a theme for the senior dance.

CLASS ACT
*What It’s About: House Party‘s Kid ‘N Play play a genius and hoodlum, respectively — and vice versa; their school records somehow get switched. *Will Kids Want to Watch It? Teens will get a kick out of the lively duo’s rap and horseplay, though some material is a bit raunchy for younger kids. *MPAA: PG-13. *Sex/Nudity: A girl in panties and bra; several butts are grabbed; two sex scenes in a bed and car but no nudity is shown; lots of sexual talk and innuendo. *Drugs/Alcohol: Four guys guzzle liquor on the street. *Violence/Scariness: Slapstick stuff: A student shoots a gun, and bully Wedge throws him out of the window; Wedge gets beaten up; Play uses wood-shop tools on Kid; a car chase; Play and bad guy duke it out; lots of gunfire; Kid knocks out Wedge; constant head slapping. *Profanity: 25 profanities — enough to get you sent to the principal’s office. *Mature Themes: One school scene is an explicit antidrug message.

GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE
*What It’s About: He’s back, and boy, is he ever miffed. The famed giant lizard, who hasn’t been the same since Raymond Burr became Perry Mason, does some more Japan bashing. Japan fights back with Biollante — a huge Chia pet-like monster that is part Godzilla, part giant rose. By any other name, it’s still ridiculous. *Will Kids Want to Watch It? Kids like monster pictures, even the lame ones — although this one may drag too much between episodes of carnage. *MPAA: Unrated. *Sex/Nudity: None. *Drugs/Alcohol: None. *Violence/Scariness: Seventeen soldiers are killed in a machine gun/grenade fight with some bad guys; a scientist’s daughter is killed in an explosion; Godzilla destroys two ships after being fired upon (hey — it’s self-defense!); there are two major fights between Godzilla and Biollante (hence the title) — in one the G-man kicks some serious bud, in the other Biollante rose to the occasion; another major assault on Godzilla results in one soldier being crushed to death and the destruction of two helicopters; the scientist is shot; a fight between a good guy and a bad guy; the bad guy is disintegrated. *Profanity: Four monstrosities. *Mature Themes: As the good doctor says, ”They’re not monsters; it’s the scientists who create them who are the monsters.” One small problem: Godzilla wasn’t created by a scientist.

LETHAL WEAPON 3
*What It’s About: This time out, Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) take on dirty cops and gunrunners. But with only eight days left until his retirement, Murtaugh plans to play it safe. Right. *Will Kids Want to Watch It? This seems to be one formula that kids never outgrow, no matter how old we get: There’s violence, humor, and more violence-all clearly comic-book caliber. *MPAA: R. *Sex/Nudity: Riggs in his briefs; Riggs and woman make love, but we can’t see them. *Drugs/Alcohol: Murtaugh gets drunk. *Violence/Scariness: Nothing but! A couple of major explosions; 11 fights; 11 bad guys shot; 1 electrocuted; 1 set on fire; 1 killed with an ax; 1 smothered in cement; 2 cops killed; 3 good guys shot but not killed; 2 chases resulting, of course, in car crashes; tons of gunfire; Riggs takes a bad fall. *Profanity: About 128 felonious words. *Mature Themes: The time-honored Weapon theme: good guys versus bad guys.

OUT ON A LIMB
*What It’s About: Not much. Matthew Broderick in a convoluted mess about a guy, his kid sister, some women, and an evil stepfather who has an even meaner twin brother. *Will Kids Want to Watch It? Aside from one funny bit about the world’s dumbest brothers, both named Jim, there’s very little to maintain anyone’s interest. *MPAA: PG. *Sex/Nudity: Broderick’s naked butt (as if he didn’t have enough to be embarrassed about in this film); Broderick grabs woman’s butt, at her suggestion. *Drugs/Alcohol: The two Jims drink beer constantly. *Violence/Scariness: A cop shoots at a woman on a bike, then crashes though window; one Jim shoots the other in the hand; one Jim snaps the other’s neck, then chokes woman; woman repeatedly beats up on Broderick; some shooting at people; bad guys go over a cliff in a car. *Profanity: Eighteen, not counting the film itself. *Mature Themes: Less than zero.

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER
*What It’s About: After the Vietnam War, Jean-Claude Van Damme and his crazed sergeant Dolph Lundgren are cryogenically frozen for a government project in which they are scientifically transformed into 1992-model supersoldiers. Things go haywire after their memories kick in. *Will Kids Want to Watch It? Kids love action and Van Damme never disappoints, though some violence is a bit graphic for young kids. *MPAA: R. *Sex/Nudity: Van Damme’s bare butt; a couple in bed in a motel but nothing is revealed. *Drugs/Alcohol: None. *Violence/Scariness: Naturellement! Several dead bodies missing ears; Lundgren accordingly stringing an ear necklace; 40 deaths: 30 by gunfire, 1 by grenade, 5 by fire or explosion, 1 by syringe, 2 by broken necks, 1 by farm thresher; six major fights with 11 guys getting beaten up badly as well as Lundgren and Van Damme inflicting serious pain on each other; Lundgren tries to strangle Van Damme; Van Damme sticks bayonet in Lundgren’s leg; Van Damme cauterizes gunshot wound with lighter; Van Damme cuts tracking device out of his own leg; a man is impaled on a fence. *Profanity: About 55 vulgarities. *Mature Themes: How the hell of war can alter a person (but that’s really a stretch for this film).

X-MEN: NIGHT OF THE SENTINELS
*What It’s About: Not Malcolm this time but Cyclops, Wolverine, Gambit, and the rest of the comic-book gang battle giant robots. What with the band’s three women (Storm, Jubilee, and Rogue), maybe they should be called X-Persons. *Will Kids Want to Watch It? Well, it is based on the best-selling comic book in history. *MPAA: Unrated. *Sex/ Nudity: None. *Drugs/Alcohol: None. *Violence/Scariness: A giant Sentinel wreaks destruction on a town; several fights between X-Men and Sentinels; Wolverine punches Cyclops; after a battle one of the X-Men Xpires. *Profanity: None. *Mature Themes: The hardships of being different or an outsider; making a tough decision for the good of the many over the good of the individual.