Ever since Arnie wrangled a bunch of infants in Kindergarten Cop, seems like every tough guy can’t wait to show their softer, humorous side around kids, animals, ‘toons and talking trains. Many of the films are critically reviled and only a few are hits, but — as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson proves by donning the wings in this week’s Tooth Fairy, his third go at family fun — the trend isn’t going away any time soon. Here then are 10 of the most unlikely stars of kids movies…
He’d already tracked down Sarah Connor, the Predator and the truth about the Mars colony, so it seemed only natural that someone should make a movie in which action-man Arnie’s entire challenge amounted to buying a Turbo Man toy as a Christmas present for his son (future Anakin Skywalker moppet Jake Lloyd). His competitor for the little piece of moulded plastic? Comedian Sinbad. Released in the yuletide season, it managed to make box-office cash registers jingle just enough for it to break even but critics and audiences who went along responded to it like a lump of coal in a stocking.
When we think of the big-haired crazy man with the oddball vocal cadences, we flash to him haunted in The Deer Hunter and The Dead Zone or busting caps in True Romance and The King of New York. But while Walken has shown his softer side in numerous kids movies, his aura of menace comes with him. His Puss In Boots is ace for its displays of his dancing ability but the same can’t be said for his other forays into critter cinema. At least Kangaroo Jack saw him playing a typical gangster role bit, but in The Country Bears he was called on to do the same schtick — just opposite three actors in ursine outfits. You get the idea he did it solely for the below armpit music scene, which is high-grade Walken weirdness.
Baldwin’s a big guy who projects a brusque no-nonsense confidence, whether it’s as an NBC chieftain on 30 Rock or in his formative screen tough guys in The Getaway and Glengarry Glen Ross. All of which makes it funnier to see him appear as a 12-inch tall fairy amid the talking trains of this terrible movie version of the popular tyke TV show. He’s Mr. Conductor, who works the Magic Railroad between the human world of Shining Time and the talking-train universe of Sodor, and he has lost his gold dust — meaning he can no longer sparkle between the two places! Try not to think of his “Always be closing” speech when he’s driving Thomas, blowing a whistle and saying “Sparkle! Sparkle! Sparkle!”
Good sense of humor or dud career move? That’s what we all asked ourselves when Robert De Niro joined this big-budget but small-brained adaptation of the TV cult cartoon. That he actually parodied his “Are you talkin’ to me?” scene from Taxi Driver in this flop might just have been the line in his career where De Niro crossed over from awesome actor to self-parody specialist. Certainly his biggest hits since have traded on him mocking his tough-guy image, while actual meaty dramatic roles have been few and far between.
Hollywood had clearly learned nothing from that time the Harlem Globetrotters visited Gilligan’s Island and so it was decreed that Shaq should become a movie star. But instead of an action effort — the route Dennis Rodman would take next year in the gloriously cheesy Double Team — or even a ‘toon tale like Michael Jordan in Space Jam — Shaq was shoehorned into this horrendous kids comedy as — wait for it — a genie. But not just an ordinary genie — a rapping genie. Who lives in a beat box. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard the lines: “Trapped in a box like a premature burial/Used to mull in the space cemetarial/Suffered a curse that was more than malarial/Lived as a ghost granted wishes material/Served every Tom, Dick and Harriel.” Where did the screenwriters buy their rhyming dictionary?
After a slam-bang series of action movies, including Pitch Black, The Fast and the Furious and xXx, Vin Diesel took his homage to Arnold Schwarzenegger just that little bit too far with The Pacifier, a kiddie comedy that might’ve been called Kindergarten Slop. Thanks to plot developments approximately as believable as a boxing kangaroo or a karate-kicking dog, Diesel is here a Navy SEAL who has to impose his brand of military discipline on a household of unruly kids, who range in age from a diaper-filling baby to a fully developed babe played by Brittany Snow, then 19. While some of Arnie’s blunt one-liners are among the most quoted lines in movie history, Diesel’s rumbling delivery of zingers in The Pacifier is as funny as gravel in your Cap’n Crunch. At least Vin learned from the mistake and hasn’t done another kids movie.
After making his breakout in heavy-hitting Raging Bull, a decade later tiny tough guy Joe Pesci reteamed with Martin Scorsese for his career-defining role in Goodfellas. Thing was, we’d no sooner gotten used to seeing him as psychopathic live-wire and all-round curse-machine Tommy DeVito than he popped up as burglar terrorizing Macauley Culkin in that year’s mega-smash Home Alone. It worked a treat but even so it’s hard not to imagine Pesci uttering a few choice four-letter insults to Kevin McCallister. So much so that one joker recut a condensed “Joe Pesci Edition” of the movie on YouTube. Pretty funny, but very NSFW.
When the late director Bob Clark looked for a leading man for this movie — which is, in case the title didn’t alert you, about a mutt with martial arts skills — he made an odd choice in Simon Rex. That’s because you don’t usually look for controversial casting in a kids movie. Rex started out his cinematic career doing solo scenes in hard-core gay porn, which later cost him his job as an MTV host. But Rex’s career as a musician isn’t any more kid-friendly, with his rap persona Dirt Nasty specializing in songs whose explicit lyrics about real-life ladies would make Eminem blush. For those who care, in Karate Dog he plays a cop who’s paired with CGI canine Cho-Cho and together they’re thrown into a murder investigation.
You can hear the pitch meeting: “It’s Home Alone… meets Beverly Hills Cop!” Burt Reynolds, once the world’s most bankable star, is directed by Henry Winkler, once the world’s coolest man, in this blundering kiddie comedy that pairs a tough-nut cop with a precocious little eight-year-old cop. Lines like “I’m your worst nightmare — an eight-year-old with a badge!” will make you cringe, but what’s really odd is how violent this film is. Reynolds Nick McKenna threatens all sorts of violence to crims, and to the kid himself, which is surely inappropriate for the “1/2″ audience for who this was meant.
Despite turning himself into a global household name through decades of bodyslamming, corner foot chokes and reverse chinlocks, Hulk Hogan wanted to be a movie star, too. He got off to a rough start with stinky Schwarzenegger comedy clones Suburban Commando and Mr. Nanny but sank even lower with this wince-inducing Yuletide yuckfest. Hulk plays Blake Thorn, a millionaire who gets amnesia and comes to believe that hes Santa — and that he has to save a bunch of kids whose orphanage is going to be destroyed by development. It’s bizarre that Hogan thought this would connect with audiences — but then he went on to 3 Ninjas: High Noon At Mega Mountain, which is arguably even more reviled.
As a bonus clip, here is Joe Pesci. With his head on fire.
Rotten Tomatoes’ contributor Michael Adams is the author of the new book Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies, in which he spends an insane year on a quest to find the worst movie ever made. Check it out here.