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‘Look Who’s Talking’ (PG-13)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 13, 1989

Amy Heckerling's "Look Who's Talking" begins poetically, with an ovum's perilous fall through dreamy white fallopian tissue toward conception. But soon, as a gang of hell-raising sperm gallops eggward like deranged greyhounds, the tone shifts to something resembling happy hour at the Delta House. And somehow this seems entirely appropriate. Gettin' born -- nobody said it was going to be pretty.

Starring Kirstie Alley, John Travolta and, as the voice of Baby Mikey, Bruce Willis, "Look Who's Talking" is an irreverent natal comedy that gives us a wisecracking baby's-eye view on the world. Its point of view is a show biz tried-and-true -- that everything a baby does is irresistible. The filmmakers here have gotten a jump on the game, though -- even the sperm cracks wise. Sitting in the womb, the unborn one is like a harem-bound pasha, all unfettered appetite. When he's thirsty, he rings for room service by yanking on the umbilical cord ("hey, let's get some apple juice down here!").

Basically, the filmmakers were right -- a lot of this stuff is irresistible. In the early going especially, the movie's infantilism is snappy and surprising. But this is a great idea for a sketch, not a feature, and if Heckerling had resisted padding it out, it might have made a brilliant short. A comedy can ride only so far on high concept. It has to deliver the jokes, and this one doesn't.

As a director, Heckerling moves through the movie like a train hitting all the stops; she pulls into the station, drops her load and moves on. What this consists of, basically, is cutting to the kid and matching Willis's lines to the baby actor's expressions. Luckily, the kid (who's played by four different kids, at two different ages) has a slightly off-center look that works well for the camera.

Still, though only his voice is heard, Willis is the film's dominant presence. The reason is simple -- he's got all the good lines, most of which he gives the David Addison treatment. Playing Mollie, the kid's single mom, Alley bumbles her way through the film, sometimes likably, sometimes not. As a comedian she lacks definition; as an actress she's nonexistent. Travolta is endearingly genuine as the cabbie who drives Mollie to the hospital when she goes into labor and stays on as Mikey's babysitter; he's a mensch, slightly boring but rock solid. A role like this is beneath Travolta, but he's enormously winning in it. Physically, he's alive and up-on-his-toes, especially in a smashing little dance number he does with the kid.

There's much more of a rapport between them than between the stars. The plot device is straight out of the '30s. Mollie, who had Mikey with her rat-fink married lover (George Segal), is looking for a real father for her tyke and can't see that the ideal man is right under her nose. But in the '30s, the couple usually had real obstacles in their path. In "Look Who's Talking" the only obstacle seems to be that the heroine is too dumb to catch on -- hardly a classic wrinkle.

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