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Baby Geniuses

It doesn't take a budding Einstein to see "Baby Geniuses" for what it is: a thoroughly misguided, unfunny film that proves you shouldn't beat a dead horse. The talking-babies gimmick, exhausted in the "Look Who's Talking" trilogy, is revisited here with the suggestion that baby language is actually a highly advanced vernacular that adults cannot understand.

It doesn’t take a budding Einstein to see “Baby Geniuses” for what it is: a thoroughly misguided, unfunny film that proves you shouldn’t beat a dead horse. The talking-babies gimmick, exhausted in the “Look Who’s Talking” trilogy, is revisited here with the suggestion that baby language is actually a highly advanced vernacular that adults cannot understand. Despite ample doses of CGI technology that morph baby gurgles into full sentences, pic feels cheaply made and unconvincing. And it never seems to believe enough in its own whimsical conceit to permit a willing suspension of disbelief. Its theatrical run will be brief and forgettable.

While the “Look Who’s Talking” series used fairly rudimentary technology to dub the babies, its first installment at least benefited from snappy dialogue, an inspired voiceover supplied by Bruce Willis, and clever situational humor. “Baby Geniuses” uses more advanced, “Babe”-type CGI technology, but it’s all gimmick and no heart.

Bob Clark and Greg Michael’s script takes a blunt, good-vs.-evil approach to the kinds of infant research done at two very different facilities. On one side is the quaint and wholesome Bobbins Nursery, where the amiable couple Robin (Kim Cattrall) and Dan Bobbins (Peter MacNicol) are the picture of loving parents and concerned teachers. Tenderly, and with no technology more intrusive than a video camera, they research the concept that babies, born with inherent wisdom, have a secret language.

On the other side is the BABYCO institute, a large manufacturer of infant products headed by Robin’s aunt, renowned child psychiatrist Dr. Elena Kinder (Kathleen Turner). Unbeknownst to outsiders, however, Elena and her partner, genetic scientist Heep (Christopher Lloyd), also run a clandestine research facility deep in the bowels of the BABYCO building. In stark contrast to the Bobbins’ home-run nursery, Elena and Heep keep a coterie of babies under virtual house arrest, monitoring their development with electrodes in stark laboratory settings.

To facilitate her experiments on genetically transmitted knowledge and infant intelligence, Elena separated twin boys Whit and Sly (Leo, Myles and Gerry Fitzgerald) at birth, giving Whit to the unsuspecting Robin and keeping Sly for her own experiments. After Sly escapes the underground facility (he is a baby genius, after all), he finds himself face to face with his twin brother in a shopping mall. A brief mistaken-identity sequence ensues, and with the help of his fellow babies, Sly engineers a rescue of the infant inmates at BABYCO.

“Baby Geniuses” tries desperately to provoke laughter, but more often it is unintentionally terrifying. Even if it were possible to find funny the image of a 2-year-old genius wandering about a city on his own, it would take a lot more than Clark’s misguided direction to make it work. Seeing little Sly thrust into a busy intersection is enough to make any parent’s skin crawl.

Tech elements are wildly inconsistent. At times, the morphing of baby faces and dubbing of dialogue is well done; at others, it looks amateurish and sloppy. Ditto the set design, particularly of certain BABYCO interiors that look like they were borrowed from the original “Star Trek” series. Thesping is way over the top, particularly villains Lloyd (doing an approximation of a James Bond baddie) and Turner (doing an unmistakable Cruella de Vil). Music by Paul Zaza is just about the only element that is totally unobjectionable.

Baby Geniuses

  • Production: A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a TriStar presentation of a Steven Paul/Crystal Sky production. Produced by Steven Paul. Executive producer, David Saunders. Co-executive producers, Hank Paul, Jon Voight. Directed by Bob Clark. Screenplay, Greg Michael, Clark; story by Steven Paul, Francisca Matos, Robert Grasmere.
  • Crew: Camera (CFI color, Panavision widescreen), Stephen Katz; editor , Stan Cole; music, Paul Zaza; production designer, Francis J. Pezza; art director, Michael Roth; set decorators, Josh Newman, Robert L. Zilliox; costume designer, Betty Pecha Maden; sound (Dolby SDDS), Bruce Nyznik; visual effects supervisor, Jacques Stroweis; assistant director, Ken Goch; casting, Dorothy Koster-Paul. Reviewed at UA Westwood Theater, L.A., March 3, 1999. MPAA rating: PG. Running time: 94 MIN.
  • With: Elena Kinder - Kathleen Turner Heep - Christopher Lloyd Robin - Kim Cattrall Dan - Peter MacNicol Lenny - Dom De Luise Margo - Ruby Dee Dickie - Kyle Howard Sly and Whit - Leo, Myles and Gerry Fitzgerald
  • Music By: