John Travolta is as notorious for his bizarre and unfortunate choices in roles as he is famous for his performances in movies like Grease, Saturday Night Fever, and Urban Cowboy. He’s a perpetual comeback kid, if only because he always has dispiriting professional nadirs to come back from. That was certainly the case in 1994 when he joined an ambitious, offbeat ensemble crime comedy called Pulp Fiction, which came on the heels of 1993’s Look Who’s Talking Now, the disastrous second sequel to his 1989 comeback movie and, of course, a recipient of the infamous zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
By the time Look Who’s Talking Now died at the box office, the franchise had drifted far away from both the emotional core that initially made it culturally and emotionally resonant and the cutesy gimmick that helped make it a surprise box-office smash. A recently announced series reboot may be able to recapture some of that initial charm, but as the sequels demonstrated, there’s only so much you can do with the same idea.
Writer-director Amy Heckerling’s 1989 original was a rare hit romantic comedy rooted in middle-aged single motherhood. To make the film more palatable to a mass audience, the inner monologue of star Kirstie Alley‘s pre-verbal baby was voiced by a wisecracking Bruce Willis. The result was a surprise smash with a decidedly limited premise that nevertheless inspired a full trilogy of movies. Look Who’s Talking is not Lord of the Rings — it does not probe into any themes that would require an entire series of films to explore. It’s a minor miracle that it worked even a single time, but stretching it over three films is sadistic, to audiences and characters alike.
Look Who’s Talking had a cheesy but cute and effective gimmick: who hasn’t wondered what babies are thinking in their pre-verbal state? Who hasn’t pondered what might be going on inside those adorable little heads? Look Who’s Talking Now, the first entry in the series not to be written and/or directed by Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless), tries to do the same with pooches, but the novelty and freshness has been lost.
The film opens with parents James (Travolta) and Mollie (Alley) chasing after a now partly grown-up Mikey (David Gallagher) and his little sister Julie (Tabitha Lupien). They can both talk, unfortunately, so now the creatures whose inner monologues we hear are a little further down the food chain.
Danny DeVito steps sadly into the fray to voice scruffy, oversexed mutt Rocks, who earned his name by doing his business in the backseat on the way home. Don’t worry, though; there are lots of creepy, inappropriate sex jokes to go along with all the poop jokes.
Rocks is like the Tramp in Lady and the Tramp, in the sense that Look Who’s Talking Now baldly and badly steals from the Disney animated classic. Diane Keaton plays the aristocratic Lady to Rocks’ salt-of-the-earth Tramp as the voice of Daphne, a poodle given to the family by Samantha D’Bonne (Lysette Anthony), a 30-year-old ice queen and titan of industry who hires James to be her personal pilot as the first step in an elaborate plan to seduce him away from his family.
As for the children, Mikey is not only capable of speaking for himself, he looks like he should probably start thinking pretty seriously about college in the years ahead. The gimmick that initially defined the character and the franchise is long gone, leaving behind only another gratingly precocious moppet tormented by questions of Santa Claus’ authenticity.
In a bid to get him back into the Yuletide spirit, James, Mollie and sister Julie — the latter clad in a tutu and angel wings — lip-sync their way through Alvin & The Chipmunks’ “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late),” that exemplar of Eisenhower-era uber-kitsch. The performance is supposed to be so adorable that Mikey’s skepticism and disillusionment are rendered powerless before its heartwarming power. Instead, it’s a moment of David Lynchian horror, a close cousin to the sequence in Blue Velvet when Dean Stockwell lip-syncs to “In Dreams,” but infinitely more disturbing due to context.
It’s almost impressive that the makers of Look Who’s Talking Now managed to create a family movie about dogs and children that isn’t cute in the least, but rather unintentionally disturbing . Little Julie, for example, has an obsession with basketball players — specifically Charles Barkley — that is supposed to pay off in a fantasy sequence in which this tiny, self-conscious girl challenges the NBA legend to a game of one-on-one, taunting him with “Let’s get busy!”
Barkley’s bewildering cameo here at least ensures that Space Jam is not the single worst film he’s ever been a part of.
Later, Julie decides that she can fly like Peter Pan, so she climbs up a series of shelves and prepares to dive onto the carpet before she’s scooped up by her alarmed mother. We’re meant to find it adorable that this precocious child misunderstands the adult world. Instead, she’s like a creepy ghost-girl from a J-Horror shocker, seemingly possessed by evil spirits in at least a couple of scenes. Look Who’s Talking Now may skip through genres randomly, but its many horrific elements are unintentional.
Rocks is like the character DeVito plays on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but less appealing or capable of self-restraint. He calls a female dog a “bitch,” responds to Daphne’s introduction with a Wayne’s World-style “shwing,” and, before he falls in love with Daphne, accuses her of being the product of inbreeding.
That might seem wildly inappropriate for what is ostensibly a family movie franchise rooted in the ability to hear an adorable little baby’s thoughts, but by this point, the series had somehow morphed into a bad-taste marital sex comedy primarily concerned with whether or not James will be able to successfully avoid sleeping with his manipulative, hot-to-trot ice queen of a boss.
Since there’s nothing kids enjoy more than sexual jealousy, they’ll particularly enjoy the many scenes of Mollie brooding about her husband violating the sanctity of marriage with a world-conquering dynamo who throws her own unemployed messiness into even sharper relief. Alley can make for a relatable, vulnerable, sympathetic heroine, or she can be a sloppy, blubbering, desperate mess. We get the latter here.
In another fantasy sequence, Mollie dreams about James cheating on her while he dreams about her cheating on him with a character played by a returning George Segal. Eventually they realize they’re in a dream together and that they have control over their actions, and we are briefly treated to a lovely little production number with Travolta and Alley gliding across the dance floor like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It’s an example of what a world-class performer like Travolta can bring to even the dodgiest and most desperate of projects, but it also just made me wish that I was watching literally any other movie in which Travolta dances, including even Be Cool, another unnecessary, god-awful sequel that is nonetheless infinitely better than Look Who’s Talking Now, if only for Dwayne Johnson’s performance.
But it somehow gets even worse and less dignified for Travolta and company. For reasons known only to the filmmakers, Look Who’s Talking Now ends with a music video-style showcase for French baby rapper/one-hit wonder Jordy, who scored an international hit with 1992’s “Dur dur d’être bébé! (It’s Tough to Be a Baby)” when he was a mere four years old. Jordy was a grizzled has-been of five or six by the time the movie opened, but that didn’t stop the franchise from closing its ostensibly final chapter, fundamentally, with a product placement for a Christmas song by the pre-pubescent European pop star. Alley, Travolta, and the children from the film are all there for Jordy as he delivers lyrics like “Can you feel something in the air? A super nice feeling of holiness.”
Needless to say, “It’s Christmas, C’est Noel” failed to become a new holiday standard. But it’s an utterly bizarre and yet wholly appropriate way to end a singularly misguided sequel that deviated so far from what made the original successful that they barely seem to inhabit the same universe, let alone the same film series.
Thanks largely to the mega-watt movie star charm of John Travolta , Look Who’s Talking Now is not completely worthless. But it is astonishingly misconceived, the concluding entry in a series that never should have been a trilogy. It’s so bad it reflects poorly on sequels as a whole — they are rightly disparaged for being frequently terrible, strained, and unnecessary, but in the entire undignified history of sequels, few can compete with Look Who’s Talking Now for sheer pointlessness.