Sometimes we gaze into the eyes of an infant and wonder what secrets lie in its precious, innocent little mind. Perhaps babies hold the keys to all life’s mysteries, if only we could become more child-like ourselves and understand their messages.
This usually only happens when we are stoned, though. When we are sober, we realize that babies are pretty stupid. They can’t even talk. They’re also quite selfish. Everything is me, me, me. They’re adorable, but the only thing on their mind is eating and pooping. They’re like dogs, except they don’t die when they’re teenagers, unless you’re lucky.
I used to have a soft spot for babies and their soft spots, until I saw “Baby Geniuses.” Many of the film’s details suggest its purpose was to foster greater appreciation for Infant-Americans, but in fact it has the opposite effect. The only thought you could have after watching “Baby Geniuses,” if you are still capable of thought at all, is that you are going to straight-up punch the next baby you see right in the fontanelle.
The film’s whimsical premise is that toddlers are being held captive in an underground laboratory and used for experiments. Wheee! The company, called BabyCo, makes toys and stuff, but the owner, baritone madwoman Elena Kinder (Kathleen Turner), also has theories about child-rearing. She thinks “baby talk” is an actual language that grown-ups simply can’t understand, and that if children are raised via the Kinder Method, the code can be cracked and we can learn all their secrets. This is insane, yet as far as the movie is concerned, it is also true. The gimmick is that when the babies talk to each other, we hear them in coherent English, their voices dubbed by actors and their lips electronically manipulated to vaguely match the words, like they did with the animals in “Babe,” or Courtney Love on talk shows.
To prove that the Kinder Method is best, Elena Kinder got her hands on a set of twins born to a surrogate nearly two years ago. One twin, Whit, is being raised normally, by Kinder’s niece and her husband. The other twin, Sly, is being raised in BabyCo’s secret habitat. When the boys are 6, Kinder will compare them and prove that her system was better. This is perfectly valid science.
It is not explained where the other babies in the lab came from. Adoption agencies? The black market? Babies ‘R’ Us? For that matter, where do babies in general come from? Seriously, I want to know.
The way we learn all this exposition is that Kinder’s head scientist, Dr. Heep (Christopher Lloyd), tells the computer, “Review project in summary form,” and then the computer — who has a lady’s voice, like all computers in movies — recites it for him, because I guess he forgot. Computer lady adds: “It is imperative for the integrity of this experiment that no one ever discover that Sly and Whit are twins, especially the boys themselves.” Not to spoil anything, but do you suppose Sly and Whit will meet in this movie??????????????????
I fear my numerous sarcastic question marks may have given it away, but let us press forward. Thanks to the Kinder Method, Sly is now highly skilled at martial arts and escaping from traps. Sly is pretty much a ninja. (Remember, Sly is not yet 2 years old.) He’s also very brash and saucy. When Dr. Heep harasses him, Sly says, “If you’re gonna talk out your ass all the time, maybe you should wear a bow tie on your butt!” The other babies laugh at this, even though it doesn’t make any sense. Why would you wear a bow tie on the part of your body that you talk out of? You don’t wear a tie on your mouth. See what I mean about babies being idiots?
Meanwhile, Sly’s twin, Whit, is a normal boy, living with his adoptive parents, Robin (Kim Cattrall) and Dan (Peter MacNicol). Robin is Elena Kinder’s niece but thinks she’s evil; Dan is a children’s book author who’s also studying the way babies talk, albeit in a non-evil fashion. Robin and Dan run a daycare center, so Whit has lots of other babies to talk to. BABIES BABIES BABIES BABIES. Among the employees at the daycare center are Dom DeLuise and Ruby Dee, plus a surly teen named Dickie (Kyle Howard) who keeps trying to get fired by dyeing his hair a weird color or getting his nose pierced. They refuse to fire him, though, preferring to engage in snarky banter with him, in the manner of a T.G.I.F. sitcom. (Look, if you really want to get fired from a daycare center, there are certain surefire ways to go about it. I’m just saying.)
In the midst of all this, BabyCo is launching a new venture: JoyWorld! It’s an indoor amusement park, located at BabyCo’s actual headquarters, which means the accountants and receptionists and human-resources personnel who run the company now have to walk through an amusement park to get to work every day. Also, the top-secret baby-experimenting facilities are directly beneath BabyCo and JoyWorld. Does it seem like a bad idea to open a public attraction immediately adjacent to something you don’t want anyone to know about? What if one of JoyWorld’s attractions is a giant, terrifying animatronic baby mascot called Baby Bunting? Now does it seem like a bad idea?
Let me say a few words about the babies in this movie. The voices that have been dubbed in do them a terrible disservice, as every single baby come across like a total a-hole. All of them — the BabyCo experimental tots, as well as the normal kids at the daycare center — are tart-tongued smart-alecks. It’s mildly cute, for a minute, to hear babies talking like the characters on “According to Jim.” But it gets old very quickly, and you go back to wishing babies couldn’t talk after all.
Not helping: the fact that Sly and Whit both have a throaty, malevolent giggle that emanates from their hell-spawned esophagi every time they cause misfortune to befall another human being. The devil himself could not laugh more demonically than these two.
Anyway, Sly escapes from his gulag by hiding in a enormous container of dirty diapers that’s being hauled away. This method allows him to express disgust at the diapers’ contents (which is sort of like a pastry chef being repulsed by cake) while referring to it as “diaper gravy.” Yes, “diaper gravy.” The term is used four times in this movie, which alone should have gotten it an NC-17 rating. Now Sly is free to roam the streets of Los Angeles, where at first no one notices a toddler in pajamas running around unattended. When passersby do start to notice him, he climbs into a passing stroller and asks the baby in it if he can switch clothes with her, to evade capture. (I do not know how this will help, unless the girl is wearing an invisibility cloak.) Sly says of the girl’s outfit, “Who designed this dress? Larry, Moe, and Curly?” Mind you, the dress looks nothing like anything remotely connected to the Three Stooges, and this “joke” is a complete non sequitur. Look, I get that Sly is a baby and thus incredibly dim-witted, but was the same true of the screenwriters?
Sly hides in a department store until closing time, whereupon he has the place to himself and is free to try on different outfits and do funny dances and stuff. Evidently, part of the Kinder Method is never requiring food or water, because Sly is fine without it. The next day, Whit happens to be at the same mall, and Sly and Whit happen to be wearing similar outfits, and Kinder’s goons nab Whit by mistake, while Sly gets taken home with Robin and Dan. (Robin does not notice that this is not her child.) Sly is delighted to be in a regular home, albeit one with a strong Dom DeLuise presence; Whit, meanwhile, is a terrified little boy who’s been taken from his mommy and locked in an underground lab, where he sobs piteously. Wheee!
Hijinks and shenanigans ensue, the likes of which almost defy description. Once Kinder realizes the babies have been switched, she sends goons to Robin and Dan’s house to retrieve Sly, who executes “Home Alone”-style pranks on them. I need hardly tell you that the goons’ groins are the primary target. You can tell just by looking at “Baby Geniuses” that it’s the kind of movie where a lot of groins are going to be hit with this or that. Sly then somehow hypnotizes Dom DeLuise and Dickie into driving him and the other babies to BabyCo headquarters, to rescue Whit and his fellow prisoners, and the attractions at the JoyWorld amusement park get involved, and RUN FOR YOUR LIVES, IT’S THAT GIANT MONSTER BABY AGAIN! Sly says “Oh, behave, baby,” like Austin Powers, which alone should have gotten the film an NC-60 rating (no one with an I.Q. over 60 admitted). Elena Kinder’s crazy plan is exposed, and she goes to jail, and they all live happily ever after….
… until the very end of the movie, that is, when they have to watch this montage of adorable children, accompanied by a cheesy electric-piano ballad called “A Gift of Love,” sung by Randy Travis. Then things become dark for them, very dark indeed.