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‘Toys’ (PG-13)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 18, 1992

For 15 soon-to-be-forgotten minutes, "Toys" promises witty enchantment. An offbeat adult fairy tale, it stars Robin Williams, with eclectic support from Donald O'Connor, rapper LL Cool J and others. Set in a toy factory, it's a wonderland of fanciful sets, bright colors and intriguing wind-up toys.

Unfortunately, it has no story. "Toys" is deader than a doornail. Make that two doornails. In this movie, batteries are definitely not included.

Kindly factory founder O'Connor presides over a benevolent industry. His workers sing all the way to quitting time. The eccentrically conceived toys seem to have a life of their own. O'Connor's inventor-son Williams has the greatest time of all -- coming up with different kinds of joke vomit, oversized ears and interactive-video goggles. Williams's sister, Joan Cusack, has the greatest time trying them all out. Unfortunately, this idyllic existence is threatened. O'Connor is ailing and heir-apparent Williams shows no sign of maturity.

When O'Connor passes away, his will gives control to nasty brother Michael Gambon, a three-star general who needs something to do in these post-Cold War times. O'Connor has figured that Gambon will run things smoothly. More presciently, he has anticipated the new regime will trigger Williams into adulthood.

Gambon and military son son LL Cool J establish their draconian system immediately. They force the firm to make war toys, interactive killing video games and other nasty-spirited gizmos. To make matters worse, Gambon sets up an ever-expanding, no-access zone to dream up more nefarious schemes. It's clear from the outset that Williams needs to make a grown-up stand. But it takes him two hours to realize it.

This dull daydream should have stayed in the collective pipe of director Barry Levinson and co-writer Valerie Curtin. After the relative rallying of "Bugsy," Levinson has reverted to the torpor of "Avalon." You're left with consolatory appreciation for the industry behind his idea. The toys are fascinating, and the sets are provocative tributes to Magritte, Dali and the wacky background usually found in Tim Burton films. But they're just a backdrop to a bad concept.

Gambon (who was the nasty one in "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover") makes a disappointing transition to screen-friendly Hollywood. LL Cool J makes the forcible most out of his cliched material. As Williams's harebrained, "charming" sister, Cusack is too studiously kooky. Even Williams, rarely at a loss for improvisational antics, comes up relatively short. He's just biding time until the final battle, in which he and his politically correct toys face Gambon's blitzkrieg of remote-control tanks, guns and helicopters. But instead of the apocalyptic finale this is supposed to be, it just looks like a bunch of grown-ups making idiots of themselves.

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