In only eight years, "Conan the Barbarian" has become "Kindergarten Cop." Following a trend as surely as an echo trails a yodeler, Arnold Schwarzenegger has traded his sword for a glue stick and his characteristic snarl for a milk mustache. And like it or not, he's teaching your kids.
A reunion for Schwarzenegger and "Twins" director Ivan Reitman, "Kindergarten Cop" is packaged to sell tickets. Part cop caper, part coo-fest, it is a feel-good movie, a jolly little button-pusher about a street-smart cop who brings law and order to a classroom full of unruly but adorable youngsters. Whether they are abused, neglected or let down by the school system, all they really need, he finds, is a little military-school training.
Reitman, who built "Twins" around the difference between Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito's sizes, again partners his galoot of a Gulliver with various Lilliputians. Aside from the 30 tykes, there is petite Pamela Reed as his spunky partner and elfin Linda Hunt as the principal of the elementary school where he goes undercover to catch a villain.
One of his young charges is the son of an Oedipally fixated drug dealer (Richard Tyson), who plans to kidnap the youngster. But which one is he? "Ve are goink to play 'Who ess my daddy and vat does he do?' " says Arnold to the children, who take him quite literally and start making guesses as to what his daddy does.
Arnold gradually falls in love with teaching, a third-grade teacher (Penelope Ann Miller) and the kindergartners themselves but not before they test his mettle with their shenanigans. His partner was supposed to handle the teaching, but she's come down with the flu on the trip from L.A. to Astoria, Ore., where the villain is bound. "They're only 6-year-olds. How much trouble can they be?" he asks. "On second thought, take the gun," she advises.
A Hun humbled by his energetic class, he first caters to their whims but then discovers discipline. He teaches the children to march, to hold their water and to respond to whistled commands. Though Schwarzenegger remains to acting what ham hocks are to a cheese course, he manages against all odds to be appealing as the Austrian au pair. Think of it as "To Conan With Love."
Kindergarten Cop, at area theaters, is rated PG-13 and contains some violence and scenes that are potentially frightening to youngsters.