The remake of “Child’s Play” was positioned to be one of the more logical reboots of recent years, until they did a bad job of it. The concept of a murderous doll (Cabbage Patch size, not Barbie) makes more sense in 2019, when toys that talk, move, learn, and interact with other electronic devices are common, than it did in 1988. The possibilities are greatly expanded, and less suspension of disbelief is required. Ooh, and if you could tap into paranoia about “smart” devices spying on people? So many possibilities!
But of course they didn’t remake “Child’s Play” because someone had a great concept for it. They remade it because the people who own the rights let them. In the new version, Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) isn’t a doll possessed by the spirit of a serial killer, but an A.I. toy whose safety protocols were disabled by a disgruntled factory worker. (In other words, only a few lines of code are preventing all of these dolls from turning on their owners.) Chucky falls into the hands of 13-year-old Andy (Gabriel Bateman), who’s a little old for it, as a gift from his mom, Karen (Aubrey Plaza), who works at a Walmart-type store where they are all the rage. Andy is hearing-impaired and wears a hearing aid, but this never once factors into the story and I’m surprised I even mentioned it.
Initially reluctant, the friendless Andy (he and Karen just moved here) soon warms up to Chucky, who learns his name and lifestyle habits and proves a reliable friend, if somewhat glitchy. Chucky can connect to and control other electrics made by the same Google-ish company, which is cool AND plausible — a rare twofer in horror — though his powers are gradually expanded to include dominion over all mechanical devices, including a rototiller and a buzzsaw. Without the filters in place, Chucky repeats swear words he hears, which makes Andy a hit with other kids in his apartment building. And when the kids watch “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” Chucky’s unfiltered A.I. brain absorbs the gory scenes and files away the killing methods for later use, so that when Andy makes an offhand remark about hating his mom’s jerky new boyfriend (Tim Matheson) and wishing he were out of the picture, well….
You get the idea. The original film was basically straightforward horror, but the six sequels it spawned moved toward satire and campy self-awareness, and the remake, directed by first-timer Lars Klevberg from a screenplay by first-timer Tyler Burton Smith, is a clumsy mixture. Gore is plentiful (and fun, as gore goes), but suspense and terror are not. There are a few great moments of appalling dark comedy, but they are isolated nuggets rather than a pattern. Satire of consumerism or technological dependence? Eh, not really. There are lazy elements like the son (Brian Tyree Henry) of the old lady who lives down the hall from Andy and Karen also being the town’s one police officer, and the building’s creepy maintenance man (Jack Black lookalike Trent Redekop) having no plot function except to install secret spycams and be someone for Chucky to kill. It’s one of those movies where they threw a lot of things at a lot of walls, then dumped everything into theaters without waiting to see what would stick.
C (1 hr., 30 min.; )