I’m sitting in a Saturday-morning preview screening of Honey, I Blew Up The Kid, surrounded by 500 members of the fidgety set. Only they’re not fidgety. They’re quiet, eyes wide in wonder, tiny fists jammed into tiny mouths, 500 brainpans working overtime to accommodate a wonderfully frightening concept: that a 2-year-old child — one of their own — has grown 112 feet tall and is romping around Las Vegas. It’s a moment of pure kiddie zeitgeist — even if the parents in the audience are too busy laughing to notice.

This is not necessarily the kind of impact you’d expect from a sequel whose monkey-see title and plot simply invert the premise of 1989’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. And the presence of director Randal Kleiser — a guy whose career high was Grease — doesn’t really elevate your expectations.

Yet Honey, I Blew Up the Kid turns out to be one of the most cannily disarming family movies produced in years. For children, the idea that fuddy-duddy dad (Rick Moranis) has accidentally trained an enlargement ray on his youngest son (played by twins Daniel and Joshua Shalikar) is a mind-scorcher in all the best ways. For parents — hey, for anyone who has ever tried to get a kid to take a nap — the idea of really terrible twos is funny in and of itself. And most important, Honey has enough charm, good humor, and wry gut laughs (”Get ready, Doctor — he’s getting blinky!” is its idea of climactic dialogue) to smooth over the dull patches and flaws in logic. The sole miscalculation is the title, which has led some to mistakenly expect a bloodbath about exploding toddlers.

When the movie starts, Moranis’ Wayne Szalinski — a baby-boomer descendant of Fred MacMurray’s Absent-Minded Professor — is working for a Nevada corporate lab run by a grizzled entrepreneur (an amusing but largely underexploited Lloyd Bridges). Daughter Amy (Amy O’Neill) is too old for the sequel’s target demographics and gets packed off to college in the first scenes, but middle son Nick (Robert Oliveri) has grown from Shrunk‘s precocious brainiac to a gangly, love-struck teen. And in baby Adam, the family has a genuine enfant terrible, who gets more so when bathed in the light of his dad’s new machine. At first he’s a mere seven-footer-Wayne and Nick plop a beekeeper’s helmet on his head and try to pass him off as Uncle Janocz from Yugoslavia. But exposure to common electromagnetic fields — everything from TVs to microwaves to neon lights — keeps the growth spurts coming until he’s almost as big as that fungus in Michigan.

By the time we get to the Vegas-strip showdown (which gives the lie to the idea that ”there’s nobody bigger than Wayne Newton in this town”), Honey is riding almost entirely on its lollapalooza special effects. They’re enough to put the movie over, but most of the best fun comes in earlier scenes like the one where the family tries to keep Adam from casually destroying the house by distracting him with his favorite dance record, ”The Hokey-Pokey.” What makes such moments work, surprisingly, is the toddler twins who play the blown-up kid. Daniel and Joshua Shalikar aren’t self-consciously ”cute,” because they aren’t self-conscious, period. They simply do what they wanna, and that gives Honey a marvelous edge: Because the filmmakers couldn’t predict what the Shalikars were going to do, neither can the audience (and neither could Moranis, whose roots in improv comedy prepped him to react with hair-trigger wit and perfect calm; this is Moranis’ least shticky performance to date).

Finally, though, it’s the image of the Big Baby making his family jump through hoops — the same weirdly acute idea behind the ”Baby Huey” comic books — that makes Honey, I Blew Up the Kid such potent pop entertainment, especially in a summer of dubious family fare. This movie could stick with young viewers for a long, long time, and for different reasons from Batman Returns. Judging from the reactions of the kids in the screening theater, it’s clear that they see what happens to Adam as a power trip of primal proportions: He plays when he wants, he sleeps when he wants, he goes where he wants — and if mom and dad don’t like it, he puts them in his pocket and toddles on. By the time he rips the 85-foot-tall neon guitar off the facade of the Las Vegas Hard Rock Cafe and starts playing it, they’re with him completely, screaming in an-archic delight.

Come to think of it, maybe you don’t want your kids to see this. A-

Honey, I Blew Up the Kid
  • Movie
  • 89 minutes