PG, 1990, 81 minutes, closed-captioned, MCA/Universal Home Video, $92.95.
He's bad. He puts laundry detergent in the kitty dish. Firecrackers in the birthday cake. The vacuum hose in the goldfish bowl. Eyeing a nun at the adoption home, he says, "I wonder if penguins can fly," and moments later, has her swinging from a rope outside the classroom window. When he gets a single in his Little League game, he stretches it into a home run. Don't ask how.
Bad to the bone.
His name is Junior (the devilish Michael Oliver), he's 7, and in Dennis Dugan's intermittently hilarious "Problem Child" he makes Dennis the Menace look like Mr. Rogers -- he's Dennis the Terminator. He was left on a doorstep as an infant one dark and stormy night, and since then, he's been shuttled from one home to another. Thirty times he's been tossed back into the the adoption pond until, finally, he ends up with the nuns. And even they toss him back! Enter Ben and Flo Healy (John Ritter and Amy Yasbeck), who are so overwhelmed with baby lust that they'll accept anything. Pretty soon, of course, the house is on fire, Ben's father (Jack Warden) is carried off in an ambulance and the family cat is bandaged up like a mummy. "We've adopted Satan," Ben concludes. Dugan gives the movie an anarchic rambunctiousness; it's steamroller comedy, laying waste to everything in its path, sometimes crudely but never stupidly.
-- Hal Hinson
Unrated, 1987, Fox/Lorber, $89.95.
Atom Egoyan, an Egyptian-born, Canadian-based writer-director, is perhaps too effective in depicting detachment in this mixed-media drama set in the Oedipal regions of couch potato hell. Using videotape, television programs, pornography and images from surveillance cameras, Egoyan re-creates high-tech isolation so completely that we might as well just watch reruns of "Star Trek" and ignore the family ourselves. Renting it seems somehow like cannibalism. The 27-year-old director focuses exclusively on remote-control relationships in "Family Viewing," a low-budget satire that looks at a phlegmatic sitcom family headed by Stan (David Hemblen), a video components distributor. Stan's live-in girlfriend, Sandra (Gabrielle Rose), takes altogether too much interest in her lover's adolescent son, Van (Aidan Tierney), who resents his father for all the usual reasons. When Van discovers that his father has been taping over old family movies -- replacing the footage with homemade pornography starring himself and Sandra -- the boy flouts his father's authority in an effort to preserve his memories of his mother. After replacing the old tapes with blanks, he rescues his maternal grandmother from a run-down nursing home with the help of Aline (Arsinee Khanjian), a telephone sex girl. Not so surprisingly, Aline numbers Stan and Sandra among her clientele. Maybe you could rent it, then sit around feeling sorry for yourself.
THE GRIM REAPER
Unrated, 1962, 100 minutes, in Italian with subtitles, Connoisseur Video Collection, $79.95.
Bernardo Bertolucci was only 20 and still finding himself as an artist when he directed this "Rashomon"-like investigation into the murder of a prostitute. It was his first feature, and he hadn't yet shaken free enough of his influences -- primarily his debt to Pasolini, who conceived the film's story line -- to speak with his own voice. It's hard, in fact, to find traces of the mature filmmaker in this tiresome exercise in narrative upheaval, or even of the startling talent who made "Before the Revolution" only two years later. The film proceeds as a series of police interrogations of suspects in the case. Slowly, as the different stories of the various individuals intersect, the details of the killing emerge and the killer is unmasked. The filmmaking, though, is cold and over-intellectualized; the prostitute is never more than a device, a detail in the machinery of the story. And there are confusing holes in the stories of most of the suspects, and featureless digressions too, that make the picture seem wobbly and unfocused, and that also make the characters seem only partly fleshed-out. Bertolucci does display a feel for the rough-and-tumble life of the Roman streets, particularly in the section featuring a young soldier-pickup artist on the prowl. The last long shot in the rain of the soldier seeking shelter under a bridge where a group of streetwalkers has also fled is the only image to suggest the presence of a genuine talent.
-- Hal Hinson