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‘Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 07, 1991

 


Director:
Stephen Herek
Cast:
Christina Applegate;
Joanna Cassidy;
John Getz;
Keith Coogan;
Josh Charles
PG-13
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent


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At least "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead" can't be accused of violating truth-in-labeling laws. It's certainly about a babysitter who kicks the bucket while Mom's away.

While this HBO-produced, generically titled family caper isn't quite as dead as you'd expect, it doesn't exactly pulsate with comic originality. Borrowing from successful comedies of recent years, from "Big" to "Risky Business," it bounces along with a familiar, pre-sold air.

Single mother Concetta Tomei traipses off to Australia for the summer, leaving her five offspring (including Christina Applegate and Keith Coogan) in the hands of an aged babysitter. When the bullying old lady (Eda Reiss Merin) dies in her sleep, the kids are Home Alone. Anonymously dumping the body at a mortuary, they celebrate the beginning of an unsupervised summer. That is, until they realize they've dumped Mom's spending money with the body. Responsibility sets in. Oldest kid Applegate (from TV's "Married . . . with Children") is stuck playing den mother and wage earner.

After an unsuccessful stint with a fast-food restaurant, Applegate creates a fake re'sume' and lands a cushy job working under garment executive Joanna Cassidy. Not only must underaged Applegate convey professional competence, she must:

• contend with office lech John Getz,

• escape detection by disgruntled receptionist Jayne Brook,

• borrow from the company's petty-cash box to make ends meet at home,

• maintain the love affair she just started with restaurant employee Josh Charles.

The fun starts when . . .

Whoops! Getz is engaged to Applegate's boss,

gulp! Applegate's boyfriend just happens to be the receptionist's brother,

omigod! Applegate's sibs are dipping into the cash box themselves and buying things like state-of-the-art entertainment centers,

yikes! Now, the clothing firm's going under. To turn things around, Applegate's going to have to draw on her teenage-fashion knowledge. It's going to take cleaning up the house. The family's going to have to work together. Coogan's going to have to cut his hair and clean up his act. And guess what? They're all going to have to grow up.

Bummer.

"Babysitter" contains a few subversive elements, presumably to appeal to the cooler dudes in the mall crowd. Applegate, the movie's kiddie paragon of virtue, is a regular cigarette smoker. Also, she's ultimately rewarded for falsifying her re'sume'. Coogan is a heavy-metal fan, with a brewski in one hand and a smoldering marijuana bong in the other. Maybe they should have called this "Don't Tell Mom Her Kid's a Head."

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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