Orion serves up another long-on-the-shelf turkey with this gimmicky, poorly conceived comedy, which draws its only inspiration from the short-lived novelty of having Martin Short playing a bratty 10-year-old boy. While pic could do some minor business on the fringe of the live-action youth market, box office prospects appear pint-sized.
The allure of having Short regress to childhood is as mystifying as the movie’s tired execution under the direction of Paul Flaherty, a Short colleague at SCTV (the two are also collaborating on an NBC comedy pilot).
Relating his story in inexplicable flashback to a wayward boy (Ben Savage, betraying the pic’s expiration date by looking considerably younger than in his current TV series), Short plays the nightmarishly bratty title character, who sets the story in motion by forcing his father’s Hawaii-bound plane to land in Los Angeles.
Desperate to make it to a convention, Clifford’s folks dump the kid on his little-seen Uncle Martin (Charles Grodin), who’s out to convince his betrothed, Sarah (Mary Steenburgen), that he likes children.
Disappointed when Martin won’t take him to Dinosaurworld (the reason he sabotaged the plane in the first place), Clifford slowly escalates his revenge.
If the premise has potential, Flaherty and writers Jay Dee Rock and Bobby Von Hayes squander the opportunity with over-the-top characters mouthing stilted dialogue in predictable situations. Grodin, in particular, gets caught playing an unfortunate twist on his role in “Beethoven.”
Short delivers a few laughs initially as the very bad seed but never brings anything to the role that justifies casting an adult in this part, other than the fact that the filmmakers could shoot full days and not have to pay an on-set tutor.
“Clifford,” in fact, seems caught between worlds, aspiring to be more than children’s fare while remaining simple enough to appeal to moppets; it doesn’t remotely succeed on either level.
Tech credits actually outshine the material in several places, particularly the inspired theme park attraction created for Dinosaurworld. Richard Gibbs’ impish score also conveys the tone for which “Clifford” was striving and, in its eagerness to please, so obviously came up short.