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‘The Good Son’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 24, 1993

Macaulay Culkin is tired of slapping himself in front of the mirror. He's had it with forgetful parents, bumbling bandits and PG ratings. In "The Good Son," he takes an axe to his image and, quite possibly, his career. He pushes little girls onto thin ice. He drops life-sized dummies onto busy highways. He barks back at ferocious dogs.

And you sit there laughing at Culkin's best comedy ever. If only this movie (directed by Joseph "The Stepfather" Ruben) wasn't supposed to be a horror picture.

It all starts when Elijah Wood (Culkin's good cousin) promises his cancer-stricken mother he'll save her. She doesn't make it. Wood blames himself. An opportunity for rustic therapy presents itself when Wood's father (David Morse), who has to make a business trip to Japan, dispatches his son to Culkin's New England home for two weeks.

Atop a craggy coastline, Wood can break through the grief and make friends with sweet-faced Culkin. As the boys scramble off to Culkin's treehouse, Culkin's mother (Wendy Crewson) smiles warmly.

"I think he's going to be fine," she tells Wood's father.

Insert "Jaws" music here.

Near the top of the lofty treehouse, Wood nearly tumbles to his death. Culkin saves him but keeps Wood dangling. "If I let you go," says MacPsycho, "do you think you could fly?"

There are more ominous signs of things to come than there are billboards on Route 1. "I took a real good look when my brother Richard drowned in the bathtub," says Culkin, when the subject of death comes up. And there's a photograph of Little Richard clutching a rubber duck. Remember that duck, it's part of a canard-motif.

The forebodings pile up: Culkin shows Wood his homemade crossbow, which fires lethal metal-bolt projectiles. Down goes the local nasty dog. Culkin introduces Wood to his favorite "fun" game, in which he takes a dummy, called "Mr. Highway," to a bridge and drops it into dense traffic. How Culkin smiles.

For the plot to survive, characters must lower their intelligence considerably. Culkin's parents (still grieving over Richard's death) remain as oblivious to their son's psychotic tendencies as they are heedless of Wood's perpetual warnings. Like most Hollywood villains, Culkin has a talent for turning the tables on accuser Wood and making him look like the Bad Seed. Everyone suffers from stupidity, from child psychologist Jacqueline Brookes, who believes Culkin's lies, to the ice-skating crowd that watches from a distance as Culkin attempts to drown his sister (Quinn Culkin) under the ice.

The ending, featuring more bodies dangling from great heights, is too laughable to outline. Culkin's murderous ways, it turns out, go back to that quacker in the photo. When this plot development became clear, a song I had heard that morning on "Sesame Street" infiltrated my mind. Ernie the Muppet had been told that he can only learn the saxophone if he released his beloved rubber duck. "You gotta put down the duckie," goes the repetitive chorus. "You gotta put down the duckie."

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