The first Chucky movie made without series creator Don Mancini, the rebooted Child’s Play is thankfully not a straight up remake. It’s divergence from the source story is so significant, in fact, that its use of the original film’s name feels unnecessary, though even with its surprisingly creative central twist on the famous demented doll story, the execution by director Lars Klevberg (Polaroid) is often a letdown.
Instead of serial killer transferring his soul to a Good Guys doll via voodoo, this Child’s Play presents Buddi, made by an Apple-like company and, in creepy/relevant Black Mirror fashion, capable of synching with all of the business’ other products in one’s home and making one’s life easier.
Why anyone would want an awkward-looking ginger robo-baby in overalls as a live-in assistant is the film’s great mystery, but the potential for this scenario to go wrong is the stuff horror film dreams are made of and manifests itself in an improperly programmed Buddi making its way to single mom Karen (a poorly utilized Aubrey Plaza) and her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman, Lights Out) in an unnamed U.S. city.
In a particularly humorous bit, the defective toy accidentally dubs itself Chucky, and, through Mark Hamill’s exceptional voice work, provides frequent amusement as it accompanies the whiney Andy, learning his ways and becoming a true friend.
But as various forces threaten Andy’s happiness, Chucky misinterprets his master’s complaints and goes to extreme lengths to preserve their relationship — scenes that pop with scare potential, yet nearly all fizzle out under Klevberg’s basic direction.
Still, the hyper-modern nightmare of screenwriter Tyler Burton Smith’s premise generally carries Child’s Play through its rougher patches, though without much payoff beyond a few laudable gory practical effects, the film’s charm falls to Brian Tyree Henry (If Beale Street Could Talk), who earns scattered laughs as a detective whose mother lives down the hall from Andy.
Stumbling its way toward an uninspired finale, a path strewn with inane character decisions, the film works better as a concept than an actual film — and unless more competent filmmakers take the series’ reins, it’s best left as a one-and-done experiment.
Grade: C. Rated R. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: United Artists)