Adventures in Babysitting (1987) / Comedy-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual references, some violence, and language
Running time: 102 min.
Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Maia Brewton, Keith Coogan, Anthony Rapp, Penelope Ann Miller, Calvin Levels, George Newbern, John Chandler, John Ford Noonan, Bradley Whitford, Ron Canada
Small role: Vincent D'Onofrio, Clark Johnson, Albert Collins
Director: Chris Columbus
Screenplay: David Simkins
Review published June 30, 2013
Adventures in Babysitting is Chris Columbus's directorial debut, after years of screenwriting for such Spielberg-produced hits as Gremlins and The Goonies, putting his name on the map as a go-to director of broad family entertainment. He more than borrows a page from the works of John Hughes for this one, setting the script by David Simkins in Hughes' fave hot spot for movies, Chicago, and featuring a cast of impressionable suburban Illinois teens as the protagonists. Not surprisingly, Columbus' direction would marry a Hughes script when the two joined forces to create the comedy mega-smash, Home Alone, three years later.
But the real surprise of Adventures in Babysitting isn't Columbus, Simkins, or any similarities to the works of Hughes, it's the performances by a pretty good cast of largely unknown actors. Perhaps in no other movie is Elisabeth Shue (The Karate Kid, Cocktail) so appealing, showing a penchant for light, romantic comedy that would mark her most memorable roles. Though she would eventually get an Oscar nomination for her work in Leaving Las Vegas, one wonders how different her career could have been if she had continued a path to being a girl-next-door sweetheart in the mold of Meg Ryan.
Shue stars as high school senior Chris Parker, who is the babysitter of choice for the Andersons, who are going to a dinner party and need her to look after 15-year-old Brad (Coogan, Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead) and his little sister, Sara (Brewton, Back to the Future). While the evening looks to be routine, Chris gets a frantic call from her best friend, Brenda (Miller, Kindergarten Cop), who is stuck in a seedy downtown Chicago bus station without the means to get a ride home. Chris can't just leave the kids alone, so she's hoping for an uneventful excursion into the city with the two of them, plus Brad's annoying horny friend Daryl (Rapp, Dazed and Confused), to pick up Brenda and make it back home before the parents find out. However, one calamity occurs after another, leading the quartet on a series of crazy adventures that includes confronting scary characters, car thieves, prostitutes, and crime bosses.
While, on the whole, not a substantive film, there are a handful of memorable scenes, such as a Blues number the kids must perform to secure safe passage through a Blues club, and Sara's obsession with all things related to Marvel's Thor. Along these lines, it also has a great comic-book inspired poster. While the comedy will have few doubled over in laughter, the amusing tone carries throughout, even during the scenes of child endangerment while running from crooks with murderous intent. The entire premise is that there are areas of big cities that are quite scary to a bunch of privileged suburban kids who've led a sheltered existence away from any notions of poverty, homelessness, and crime. Some may read into the film as skirting the lines of racism, homophobia and class distinction, though, I think, the film is too innocuous to come across as overtly offensive while it plays. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that, underneath, there's a palpable discomfort with anything "other" for predominantly affluent suburbanites whose parents were likely "white-flighters"".
Adventures in Babysitting is a formulaic comedy (many compare it to Martin Scorsese's After Hours, though less adult, and far less surreal), and not particularly challenging, but it remains a breezy good time that is enjoyable for a kind of lighthearted comic misadventure for teens. The writing is pleasant and crisp, with sharply defined characterizations, synching with the robust, energetic direction, plus a plethora of feel-good songs on the soundtrack (not the least of which is the aforementioned "Babysitter Blues"). Rounding it off is the very likeable cast, leading one to have hoped they could have gone on many more adventures in sequels that never were made.
©2013 Vince Leo