Kindergarten Cop (1990) / Action-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for strong violence, some drug references, and language
Running Time: 111 min.

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Penelope Ann Miller, Pamela Reed, Richard Tyson, Linda Hunt, Carroll Baker, Cathy Moriarty, Joseph Cousins, Christian Cousins, Angela Bassett (cameo)
Director: Ivan Reitman
Screenplay: Murray Salem, Herschel Weingrod, Timothy Harris
Review published October 17, 2006

Arnold Schwarzenegger (Total Recall, Predator) softens his image while increasing his fan base among the younger set with this memorable but wildly uneven action vehicle that mostly works whenever guns aren't on display.  Unfortunately, the guns seem ever present, as this mix of cute kids movie and very violent cop thriller doesn't quite mesh, making it too intense for most kids, while too scattershot in its approach for most adults.  While the movie as a whole doesn't work, when Arnie's with the kids, it's fun and charming in its own fashion, and that's almost enough to make it palatable in between the bookended action build-up and climax.

Schwarzenegger plays Det. John Kimble, who finds himself having to go undercover in the role of teacher for a kindergarten class in Astoria, Oregon, when his partner, Phoebe (Reed, Junior), gets ill.  His job is to try to find the estranged son of wanted murderer Cullen Crisp in order to get his mother to testify against him and put him away for good.  Kimble has no previous experience in teaching, which makes handling his class full of unruly children a particularly difficult chore, but he manages to win them over through his police training techniques and strong interest in their education.  Meanwhile, Crisp is on his way to get back his long-lost boy, so it's a race to find out which of the children is the murderer's son before calamity results.

There's really only one thing to recommend here, and that's to see Arnold Schwarzenegger being extremely ingratiating as he deals with a group of adorably precocious kids.  When he teaches class, the film is lively, funny and engaging, even when it is contrived and cloying (which it is often), but one gets the sense that the macho actor is actually in his natural element among the children, and the resulting charm is infectious.

If only these funny scenes weren't stuffed into the middle of a silly, repugnant plot involving a crazy killer and his loopy, domineering mother out to get their kin, perhaps this would have been a much more entertaining film.  Although marketed as a cute kids film, Kindergarten Cop is marred by being excessively violent, and in some cases, even promoting it as a solution to real-life problems (an ineptly handled child abuse subplot rears its ugly head on a couple of occasions).  It's not just a cops and crooks shootout as you'd see on TV; it's quite brutal when in action mode.

Kindergarten Cop contains a handful of priceless moments, particularly for Schwarzenegger fans, but the story itself is a dog.  Now that it's on DVD, you should have no problem advancing chapters past the murders and cop investigation plot, getting right to the good stuff where the surprisingly endearing Arnie tries ever so valiantly to whip the kids into shape.

 Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo