Saturday, August 15, 2020

Stubs - Kindergarten Cop - Controversial 30 Years Later?

Kindergarten Cop (1990) Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Penelope Ann Miller, Pamela Reed, Linda Hunt, Richard Tyson, Carroll Baker. Directed by Ivan Reitman. Screenplay by Murray Salem, Herschel Weingrod, Timothy Harris. Produced by Ivan Reitman, Brian Grazer Run time: 111 minutes. United States. Color. Action, Comedy.

A thirty-year-old comedy starring Arnold Schwarzenegger might not seem like a controversial film, but Kindergarten Cop has recently been in the news because a recent planned screening was canceled.  Originally scheduled to open the NW Film Center’s Cinema Unbound, a summer-drive-in movie series in Portland, the film was pulled after local author Lois Leveen criticized the movie on Twitter.

According to her, “What’s so funny about School-to-Prison pipeline? Kindergarten Cop-Out: Tell @nwfilmcenter there’s nothing fun in cops traumatizing kids. National reckoning on overpolicing is a weird time to revive ‘Kindergarten Cop.’ IRL, we are trying to end the school-to-prison pipeline. There’s nothing entertaining about the presence of police in schools, which feeds the ‘school-to-prison’ pipeline in which African American, Latinx and other kids of color are criminalized rather than educated. Five- and 6-year-olds are handcuffed and hauled off to jail routinely in this country. And this criminalizing of children increases dramatically when cops are assigned to work in schools.”

She went further, stating “It’s true Kindergarten Cop is only a movie. So are ‘Birth of a Nation’ and ‘Gone With the Wind,’ but we recognize films like those are not ‘good family fun. They are relics of how pop culture feeds racist assumptions... Because despite what the movie shows, in reality, schools don’t transform cops. Cops transform schools, and in an extremely detrimental way.”

Having just recently seen the film again, I have to wonder how far up her own ass is Ms. Leveen’s head. The comparisons to Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind are over-the-top clap trap. Those films have been criticized, rightly so, for their depiction of Blacks during and after slavery. Birth of a Nation glorified the origins of the Klu-Klux-Klan for God’s sake. Invoking that film, in connection with criticizing this film, is a disservice to her own cause.

I would almost have to think that Ms. Leveen has never seen the film or hasn’t in 30 years and has somehow twisted the film’s story to fit in with her modern take on the world. Yes, police overstepping their boundaries, especially against children, is horrible. Yes, no one wants to see a “school-to-prison pipeline”. And yes, Black Lives Matter. But none of that has anything to do with Kindergarten Cop.

I’m not saying that Kindergarten Cop is high art and above reproach, but Leveen’s criticism seems misguided at best.

The film opens with a cat-and-mouse chase through a mall. LAPD detective John Kimble (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is following Cullen Crisp (Richard Tyson), an infamous drug dealer. Crisp is on his way to meet Danny (Tom Kurlander), a junkie who wants to sell him information about his estranged wife and child. Even though Danny was told to come alone, he has brought with him Cindy (Alix Koromzay), another junkie.

LAPD Detective John Kimble (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrests Cullen Crisp (Richard Tyson).

When Danny asks for money, Crisp tells him that he’ll take good care of him. But after learning that his wife and child are living in Astoria, Oregon, Crisp shoots and kills Danny. But Cindy is a witness to the murder from behind a box. Crisp dumps the gun in a trash bin and joins his mother, Eleanor Crisp (Carroll Baker), at a beauty salon. Finding Cindy kneeling over Danny’s body, Kimble handcuffs her to the body so she won’t run away. He then goes to the salon and arrests Crisp.

At headquarters, policewoman Phoebe O’Hara (Pamela Reed) interrogates Cindy, but she wants nothing to do with helping the police. After Cindy’s release, Kimble follows her to a drug den, chases everyone out, and promises to harass her until she helps him. Cindy relents and correctly identifies Crisp as the killer in a lineup and he is held over for trial without bail.

Crisp and Kimble talk when the former is in custody.

At the Los Angeles County Jail, Crisp boasts to Kimble that he will soon be free because a junkie’s testimony is worthless, but Kimble suggests that Crisp’s wife, who reportedly fled with $3 million of his drug money, will be happy to testify against him.

Later, Captain Salazar (Richard Portnow), over Kimble’s objections, sends him and Phoebe to Astoria to find Rachel Crisp and offer immunity in return for her testimony. It has been arranged that Phoebe will go undercover as a temporary kindergarten teacher at Astoria Elementary School, where Crisp’s son is a pupil. Since their only photograph of Rachel Crisp does not clearly show her face, they will have to uncover her new identity.

Once they land in Oregon, Phoebe gets stomach flu and is unable to appear at school the next morning as a result. Kimble decides to take her place and reports to the principal, Miss Schlowski (Linda Hunt), who was expecting Phoebe, not a huge, muscular man. Miss Schlowski warns that if she feels the children are in danger, she will alert the parents and they will take their kids out of school. When asked, Kimble tries to reassure Miss Schlowski that he has had teaching experience, but in reality the five-year-olds in his class drive him crazy.

Day One: Kimble loses his temper and makes the children cry.

His loud attempts to quiet them make most of the children cry, so Kimble runs to his rented car and brings back his pet ferret to calm them down. It becomes the class mascot. At the end of the school day, another teacher’s, Joyce’s (Penelope Ann Miller), little boy, Dominic Palmarie (Joseph Cousins and Christian Cousins), tells Kimble that he is the worst teacher ever, even worse than his stick ball coach. When Kimble asks if there is anyone he’s better than, Dominic informs him that he doesn’t know that many people.

Dominic Palmarie (Joseph Cousins or Christian Cousins), helps Kimble clean up after the first day. 

Exhausted, Kimble returns to his motel room and collapses after having cleaned up the mess the students have made.

The next day, young mothers linger at the school after bringing their children. Some are interested in Kimble, while others wonder what kind of man teaches kindergarten.

In class, Kimble pretends to play a game with the children by asking them what their father does and where are they now. The children give a variety of answers and Dominic says his father lives in France. Meanwhile, a child named Zach Sullivan (Justin Page) is withdrawn and resists saying anything despite Kimble’s attempts to draw him out.

After a fire alarm drill, Miss Schlowski chides Kimble for taking longer to evacuate his class than the other teachers.

That night, Phoebe feels better, and is hungry. She and Kimble go to a restaurant, where they run into Joyce and Dominic. Sensing romantic possibilities between Kimble and Joyce, Phoebe plays wingman for him, posing as his sister and speaks in Kimble’s Austrian accent. Over dinner, Kimble questions Joyce about other mothers, especially newcomers. Joyce believes many people come to small towns like Astoria to run away from something.

Phoebe (Pamela Reed) gives Kimble advice on how to handle the kids in his class.

Later that night, when Kimble complains to Phoebe that the children take advantage of him, she suggests that he show no fear.

The following day, Kimble gets “tough” and tells the kids he is the sheriff and they are “deputy trainees.” He orders them to march, leads them in physical exercise, and plays games that demand discipline. Thinking Zach is the boy he’s looking for, he places Zach in charge of the ferret. Miss Schlowski is impressed with the children’s improved behavior.

While the children take their afternoon naps, Kimble dozes off and dreams that Colin Crisp shoots him through the classroom window. He awakens as Joyce enters the room. She asks him over for dinner the next night at her house and he accepts.

Kimble finally manages to confront Mrs. Sullivan (Jayne Brook) the next day. She mistakenly believes he is asking about bruises on Zach’s legs, and confesses that her husband is in counseling and begs Kimble not to report him.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, Colin Crisp’s mother arranges for a dealer to sell Cindy a bag of pure heroin that is certain to kill her.

Dominic shows Kimble his backyard hideout.

The following evening, while Joyce prepares dinner, Dominic shows Kimble his backyard hideout, where he has a “laser” he hopes to place on a nearby antenna tower to protect him and his mother from “bad people.” After dinner, Kimble asks Joyce why she and Dominic move so often, and she admits her husband is not in France, but in Los Angeles. After he tried to kidnap Dominic, she assumed a new identity and went into hiding.

The following day, Phoebe investigates Joyce’s finances and can find only a checking account with less than $1000. Kimble is convinced Joyce is hiding $3 million somewhere, but Phoebe thinks he suspects her because his growing feelings toward her frighten him.

That morning, Zach arrives late to class, and Kimble finds a large bruise on his back. He chases Mrs. Sullivan back to her car, where Mr. Sullivan (John Hammil) is waiting. Kimble confronts him, and when Sullivan takes a swing, Kimble knocks him down.

Miss Schlowski calls Kimble into her office. He’s pretty sure that she’s going to fire him, but instead she approves of him punching Sullivan, even asking him what it felt like to hit him. She also, surprisingly, praises his teaching skills.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Captain Salazar identifies Cindy’s body at the morgue. Without Cindy’s testimony, he will have to release Crisp from jail, so he tells his assistant to inform Kimble and Phoebe that Crisp will soon be coming to Astoria. If Crisp’s wife wants police protection, she will have to reveal the whereabouts of the $3 million she supposedly has.

Eleanor Crisp picks up her son outside the jail, telling him, “We’re gonna be a family again”, and they drive to Astoria.

At the school fair, Phoebe and Kimble confesses to Joyce that they are police and can offer her protection from Colin, but she must turn over the stolen money. Joyce claims there is no money. Her husband spread a lie about her having $3 million to give others an incentive to locate her, enabling him to kidnap Dominic.

Fearing that she’ll flee, Kimble goes to see Joyce, who is hysterical because Dominic is missing. He remembers what Dominic had told him, and Kimble leads Joyce to the antenna tower, where they find the boy stranded on a ladder while trying to plant his lasers.

After Kimble rescues Dominic, he confesses that he lost his own son because his ex-wife wanted him out of her life, but he does not want to lose her and Dominic. They kiss.

Unbeknownst to her, Miss Schlowski (Linda Hunt) takes Crisp to where his son is.

The next day, in an effort to provide assistance, Phoebe comes to Kimble’s class to discuss strangers. Meanwhile, Colin visits Miss Schlowski’s office, posing as a father who wants to enroll his son in kindergarten. She allows him to look in on a classroom, and he recognizes his son. But when he sees Kimble, Crisp excuses himself and hurries outside to tell his mother.

Later, Crisp sneaks back into the school and sets fire in the library. The fire alarm prompts Kimble and Phoebe to lead their classes into the smoky hallway. Dominic stuffs Kimble’s pet ferret under his shirt, but when Kimble helps a girl who had been knocked down in the hall, he loses track of Dominic.

In the confusion, Crisp grabs his son and spirits the child into an empty classroom. He tells Dominic he is the boy’s father, but Dominic does not recognize him. Kimble searches the hallways for Dominic, while outside, Phoebe realizes that Dominic is missing and tries to return to the building. Stopped by local firemen at the front door, Phoebe hurries to a side door with her gun drawn.

Seeing her, Eleanor drives her car into Phoebe, knocking her down and, with Phoebe incapacitated, grabs her gun. Inside, Kimble finds Crisp in the boy’s locker room. But the drug dealer holds a pistol to his son’s head and makes Kimble put down his gun. He plans to shoot Kimble and Joyce, but the ferret, who never bites, suddenly goes after Crisp. Dominic manages to escape, and Kimble picks up his gun and shoots Crisp. Though fatally hit, Crisp fires off a last shot that wounds Kimble in the leg.

Eleanor Crisp (Carroll Baker) wants her grandchild back.

Soon after, Eleanor Crisp arrives and shoots Kimble. She follows his blood trail into the shower and fires a couple of shots near him to get him to tell her where her grandson is. When Kimble won’t tell her, she’s about to shoot him when Phoebe knocks her out with a baseball bat.

Kimble and Joyce (Penelope Ann Miller) are reunited upon his return from the hospital.

After a few days in the hospital, Kimble returns to school and Miss Schlowski offers him a permanent teaching job. The kids are overjoyed to see him. Kimble and Joyce embrace and kiss to everyone’s delight.

Made on a budget of $26 million, Kindergarten Cop made about $202 million when it was first released, making it a hit by the standards of the day.

Thirty years later, the film holds up pretty well. There are still a lot of laughs in the film and you do find yourself worrying about Dominic, even if you have seen the film before, like me. This is not to say that the film is perfect. There are a couple of holes that have to exist for the film to work.

We’re told that Kimble has been following Crisp for years, so it seems odd that he wouldn’t have more intel on him, like who is wife is and what she looks like. There are such things as marriage certificates and even without the internet, people still found out what other people looked like. But if Kimble knew what she looked like then the whole plot of the movie has to be thrown out the window.

I’m also a little surprised that Kimble and Phoebe, knowing Crisp was in town, would let Joyce and Dominic return to school the next day. However, if that didn’t happen we wouldn’t have the final shootout at the school. You would expect that they would put her and Dominic in protective custody rather than use them as bait.

While the happy ending and the kiss between Joyce and Kimble promises a future for them together, did she not go visit him in the hospital? Wouldn't this big mushy kiss have happened there?

And there is Kimble’s pet ferret, who is the one that causes Crisp to misfire his gun. A real important plot point in the story and he’s apparently necessary to the film. However, he’s not discovered until Kimble and Phoebe have already flown from Los Angeles to Portland. I know comfort animals were a thing a few years ago but not 30. I’m not sure how a live animal would have gone undetected for that long on a plane.

So, while I think the writing has issues, there are still some pretty funny lines, including this exchange between Kimble and one of the students.

Detective John Kimble: I have a headache.

Lowell: It might be a tumor.

Detective John Kimble: It's not a tumor! It's not a tumor. At all!

That line is made funny by Schwarzenegger’s delivery, making it sound like too-mah, as in “It’s not a too-mah”, a line which was repeated in practically every story about the film’s recent controversy. Schwarzenegger has shown that he is surprisingly adept at playing comedy and his performance here is more nuanced than that in Twins, his breakthrough comedy hit.

The rest of the cast is good, though it wouldn’t be hard to imagine others playing in the supporting roles, including Penelope Ann Miller, Pamela Reed, Linda Hunt, Richard Tyson, and Carroll Baker. One of the film’s more memorable roles was that of Crisp as played by Richard Tyson; he has evil written all over him from the start.

Richard Tyson's Crisp is evil throughout the film.

So, let’s take a look at Leveen’s complaints about the movie. School to jail pipeline: no children get arrested. If anything, Kimble’s tactics are more in line with the scared straight program. The children receive discipline in the form of rules and behaviors to follow. Is he strict? Sort of, but there is no corporal punishment and in the end the children seem to love him as they learn to work with him while he learns to work with them.

African Americans, Latinx, and other kids of color are criminalized rather than educated: That’s not present in this film. This is mostly a white classroom but there are one or two black children and at least one Latinx depicted. There is no sense that they are treated any differently than the other children in the class and everyone seems to be depicted accepting of everyone else.

Cops traumatizing kids: If someone yelling at them was a new experience then perhaps, yes, the children might be traumatized by Kimble. But there is no indication of that happening. He gets their attention and they go from there. The real traumatization would come from the school burning down, which is not played for comedic effect in the film. And the one who sets the school on fire is the bad guy.

What about the shooting at the school, wouldn’t that traumatize the children? Perhaps if they’d seen it. The gunfight takes place while the children are outside because of the fire. They don’t see it nor do they hear it over the other noises. The only child in the room, and I’m not even sure he’s shown as being there, is Dominic. I believe he escapes out of the boy’s locker room before the shooting takes place. The only kids that might be traumatized are the two older students who are making out during the fire and are surprised by Kimble, who does have his weapon drawn when he bursts into the room they’re in.

And frankly, my dear, if Kindergarten Cop was half the movie Gone with the Wind was, that would be great. Instead, it is a fun film. Now it was and still is for that matter, rated PG-13, which means it wasn’t made for small children. If parents were to take them in to see it, any traumatizing would be on them.

The NW Film Center should be ashamed of itself for capitulating to Leveen’s misplaced complaints. While John Lewis was a great man and a worthy subject, and I’m not complaining about the documentary, I don’t think it evokes the same fun time at the drive-in. Leveen’s complaints are the type that ruined Saturday Mornings by complaining about the cartoons not being educational. Now, drive-ins can’t be fun places to go, either, I guess.

Kindergarten Cop is light fare and would be worth seeing, especially if you were wondering what the fuss was about. You know a good place to see it? A drive-in.

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