Dennis the Menace isn’t really appropriate for anyone over the age of 12. Very young children may find the numbskull, by-the-numbers gags here amusing, but teens will consider this kids’ stuff and adults will be pained.
Producer-screenwriter John Hughes continues his march down the age-scale from adolescence to babyhood with the antics of five-year-old Dennis Mitchell, for more than 40 years the star of Hank Ketcham’s comic strip, for four years of an early 1960s TV series and now of a syndicated animated series.
There’s no plot per se, just one lame gag after another. Opening scene has little blond Dennis (Mason Gamble) casually torturing next-door neighbor Mr Wilson (Walter Matthau) in bed. Natch, Dennis’ parents (Lea Thompson and Robert Stanton) admonish their sprog to cool it, but soon he’s back to his tricks.
In an attempt to introduce some notion of suspense, Hughes drags in a sinister-looking stranger named Switchblade Sam (Christopher Lloyd) who stalks the idyllic town for awhile before kidnapping the little tyke.
The one real pleasure for adults in the film comes from watching Matthau, who has reached deep into his bag of tricks to deliver a huge assortment of slow burns, simmering grimaces, delayed howls and intolerant glances. It’s a performance worthy of a real Sunshine boy.