Friday, 29 August 2014

Toys (1992)




It's hard to admit, given how raw his tragic and incredibly premature demise is, that there were moments when Robin Williams' shtick of incessant and risque motormouth humour crossed the floor to mawkish sentimentality territory to become utterly infuriating. But it did, and Toys is a prime example of that moment.

Barry Levinson's Dada and Surrealism inspired, utterly distinctive colourful and creative vision concerns itself with Williams' naive pacifist toymaker, who just wants to make the world laugh and play, coming up against his more pugnacious uncle (Michael Gambon with an accent that surely drowned on its way across the pond - though at least they jokily acknowledge/explain it) who, upon inheriting the family business, is intent on taking it into a new direction and making War Toys. And that's pretty much it; like a Doctor Who script from the McCoy era - The Greatest Show In The Galaxy and The Happiness Patrol immediately spring to mind - it tries to create an idyll upon whom the horrors of a violent regime begin to impinge and provide a saviour in the shape of a zany little man. These kind of stories were big in the late 80s/early 90s, and its clear Levinson meant this to be an anti war message in the Post Gulf War world of 1992.

Just as you can't deny such a peaceful message, you really can't deny Levinson's aforementioned beautiful creative vision that, in cinematography, set and costume design, tips its hat to the work of Magritte. The sublime and diverse score from the likes of Enya, Tori Amos, Grace Jones, Hans Zimmer, Trevor Horn, Tchaikovsky and Seal is also undeniably strong too. But the sad truth is you cannot help but be infuriated by the complete lack of plot focus on display, as time after ponderous time the film prefers to concern itself with navel gazing and up its own bottom disappearing 'character' moments that actually hold little substance in terms of character anyway and are the cinematic equivalent of wet farts.

Levinson had assuredly handled Williams in the excellent Good Morning, Vietnam but he loses him completely here in a performance that is 80% beatific boredom and 20% out of character inventive motormouthery. It reaches a point where you actually hate Williams, you want to grab him and shake him out of this sentimental schmaltz before its too late...or before What Dreams May Come and Bicentennial Man at least! I'm a pacifist left winger, yet even I'm on Gambon's side here! This was the time when Williams' screen persona of the outsider who challenges the stiff and unjust establishment through his eccentric manner was stretched to its limit. At its best, this persona gave us Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam and even Good Will Hunting, at its worst it gave us these tepid and soppy 'boy who never grew up 'affairs which should have stopped at its most natural conclusion; Hook, a less than wholly successful project from the previous year.

It was said that Levinson spent twelve years getting Toys off the ground and that it was the first movie he had ever wanted to make. It shows. He hung onto this idea for so long he became too immersed in it and besotted by it to see its failings. Visually extraordinary, all concerned on Toys clearly believed they were producing great art, with not only something vitally important and philosophical to say but also said beautifully too, when in fact much of its ideas are half hearted, empty and unclear. It's probably one of the greatest and most infuriating miscalculations in cinema and the obvious sincerity on display from all concerned only further serves to irritate. 

Just as one felt it cruel though necessary to criticise a film so unbelievably wet  for its peaceful 'all you need is love' message so today do I feel cruel to do so all over again knowing Williams is no longer with us.

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