“Look Who’s Talking” meets “Plan 9 From Outer Space” in “SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2,” the long-gestating but hardly long-awaited follow-up to 1999’s “Baby Geniuses.” Sequel about secretly communicative toddlers battling a German megalomaniac falls short on nearly every level, from production values to an inexplicable cameo by Whoopi Goldberg — or, as she is referred to here, “Whoops.” Whoops, indeed. Coasting on the original’s modest success, pic could snare extremely young auds en route to DVD, where it should have gone to directly.
No doubt impeded by the rapid aging of its predecessor’s cast, “SuperBabies” abandons original characters entirely but preserves the same essential gimmick: By matching adult voices to babies’ lip movements, pic makes auds privy to the mysterious, otherwise incomprehensible language of “baby talk.” Yet because of poor dubbing and less-than-nuanced toddler performances, effect is less cute than reminiscent of the famously fake-looking “Lips” segment on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”
Story concerns four hyperarticulate toddlers at a posh L.A. daycare center: Archie (Michael and Max Iles), Finkleman (Jordan and Jared Scheideman), Rosita (Keana and Maia Bastidas) and Alex (Joshua and Maxwell Lockhart). The center’s owners, Stan Bobbins (Scott Baio, who between this and “Charles in Charge” clearly likes to babysit) and his wife, Jean (Vanessa Angel), have entered into a business relationship with famous media mogul Bill Biscane (Jon Voight).
Unbeknownst to the Bobbins, Biscane is evil Captain Kane, who back in 1962 Berlin tried to conquer the world by controlling the minds of its children. He was defeated by the legendary Kahuna (Leo, Myles and Gerry Fitzgerald), a boy with extraordinary superpowers — not the least of which, apparently, is a permanent resistance to age.
Biscane plans to transmit mind-altering subliminal messages to kids everywhere via satellite, but his scheme hits a hurdle after Archie, Finkleman, Rosita and Alex unwittingly make off with his computer disc. Protected by Jean’s niece, Kylie (Skyler Shaye), the tots seek refuge at Kahuna’s hideout, a chintzy Fraggle Rock-style lagoon located strategically behind the Hollywood sign. There, Kahuna transforms his four friends into superheroes using elaborate machinery and their own imaginations.
The obvious “Peter Pan” parallels, however, are misguided. “Pan’s” characters had a mythic resonance, but scribe Gregory Poppen saddles each baby with a single, one-dimensional personality type.
Voight is in full-on ham mode for the part of a Hitler-like antagonist who spews diabolical, German-accented declarations of intent with almost suicidal glee. (This ridiculous caricature of arrested adolescence would have fit Will Ferrell like an elf’s stocking.)
Voight at least looks like he’s trying to have fun; everyone else seems at a loss. Although the kids are not without their charms, they appear in need of more direction from helmer Bob Clark, who also oversaw the original.
In between PG-rated fight sequences, which include plenty of kicks to the groin (or, as one baby calls it, “the forbidden zone”), pic finds time to deliver lessons on the evils of television — a hypocritical stance for a film that was clearly made to turn a quick buck — and, more emphatically, the need for children to believe in themselves. The irony is that “SuperBabies,” with its camp cliches and sledgehammer style, condescends to the very audience it pretends to empower.
Paul Zaza and Helmut Zerlett’s sentimental score recalls that of another kid-running-wild feature, “Home Alone.” CGI work by Dynamic Effects and Digital Energy, which includes lots of “Matrix”-style acrobatics and the occasional hologram effect, lacks polish.