The Goonies (1985)

14 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I’m going to state in this review right at the start that “The Goonies” is one of those movies that just get better and better to me every time I watch it. I loved it as a kid, and I still love it now. By this point, I must have watched it over a hundred times. I feel I have a tough grasp on everything in “Goonies trivia,” I’ve watched it that much.

Actually, I’ll just confess that I can’t just watch the movie itself anymore. I have to watch the DVD bonus features as well—the cast/director commentary, the deleted scenes, even the cheesy music video for Cyndi Lauper’s theme song (which I ironically hate).

You get the point—I love “The Goonies.” I can’t help myself. I understand that there are some obvious flaws and it’s not perfect, and I know people are rather split on this movie—some people love it, while others are incredibly annoyed by it. But I am going to give this movie four stars anyway, just for personal fondness.

(And for the record, I am probably at that point where personal fondness overtakes me—in fact, after watching “Runaway Train” so many times now, I’m even considering changing its rating from three-and-a-half to four.)

For so few of you who don’t know what “The Goonies” is (even modern-day kids have had this movie shown to them by their parents), it’s a 1985 fantasy-adventure flick about a group of young teenagers who find a lost pirate map, and they explore underground tunnels and brave treacherous traps as they set out for the treasure. Directed by Richard Donner of “Superman,” executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, marketed as an “Indiana Jones for kids,” and a controversial overuse of the “s” word, no kid in the ‘80s was going to miss seeing this on the big screen. It became a box-office hit, and since then, it has become a cult-classic and is still remembered with fondness today (mostly).

OK, enough of the “retrospective” shtick. On to the review…

The story takes place in Astoria, Oregon. A neighborhood known as the Goon-Docks is known as the “poor part of town,” and the local kids who live there are dubbed the “Goonies.” Unfortunately, their homes are about to be foreclosed upon to expand Astoria’s country club. On the “last Goonie weekend,” a small group of Goonies—asthmatic Mikey (Sean Astin), his cool older brother Brand (Josh Brolin), overweight Chunk (Jeff Cohen), wisecracking Mouth (Corey Feldman), and little-Asian-genius Data (Ke Huy Quan, Short Round from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”)—hang out and explore the attic of Mikey and Brand’s house, where a lot of museum artifacts are stored (their father was a museum-curator). There, they discover an old map that supposedly leads to the lost ancient treasure of pirate One-Eyed Willy. So, seeing this as an opportunity to possibly save their homes, Mikey decides that they all should follow the map and retrieve the hidden loot.

Accompanied by two girls—Andy (Kerri Green), who has a crush on Brand, and Stef (Martha Plimpton)—the Goonies head to the first spot, an old restaurant just near the coast. They sneak around the basement, where they discover the secret entrance to a tunnel cave. But they also discover that the restaurant is also the hideout for a family of crooks, the Fratellis—Mama Fratelli (Anne Ramsey) and her two dim-witted sons Jake (Robert Davi) and Francis (Joe Pantoliano). They chase after the kids, hoping to get their hands on the pirate treasure themselves. As the kids venture further into the tunnels, getting closer to the tunnels and away from the crooks, they have to endure a series of life-threatening booby traps, just like in “Indiana Jones.” There are crashing boulders, sharp spikes, and many more.

It’s easy to admire the craftsmanship of these impressive cavern sets, as well as one hell of an ancient pirate ship that the kids come across later in the film. But it’s also just a ton of fun! These kids go through one entertaining adventure after another, and it’s just a thrilling rollercoaster ride all the way through. My favorite sequence features a piano made up of skeleton bones—there are notes on the back of the map that the kids must play, and every time they hit a wrong note, a large chunk of ground disappears into the deepest cavern. It’s a well-paced, well-edited, and quite tense sequence.

Some of you might be thinking, how is it even possible to make a piano like that? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care. It’s a fantasy, it’s an adventure! I don’t want to think about little details like, how is it that one rigged boulder conveniently crushes someone and yet, when the Goonies set off that trap, all of them come crashing down. Or how Data survives a fifty-foot fall into a cavern (nearly being skewered by spikes) by using plastic-chompers (“Pinchers of Peril,” he calls them) to grab onto the cave wall and save his life. (That’s a great sight gag, by the way.) Or even why the cavernous waterslide the Goonies slide through looks more like a Disneyland attraction. “The Goonies” doesn’t require you to ask questions like that; it just wants you to have fun. It’s not trying to insult audiences; it’s just telling an adventure story. You don’t ask these kinds of questions in “Indiana Jones” movies, do you? In fact, a lot of Steven Spielberg elements are found in “The Goonies”—the energy of the kids calls back to “E.T.,” the idea that the greedly land developers wanting to destroy the Goonies’ homes is a callback to “Poltergeist,” and of course, the adventures recall “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Also added, and evident in “Jaws,” “Close Encounters,” “Gremlins,” etc., is a brisk pace to keep things interesting and intriguing from each setup to each payoff. There are shocks, comic relief, special effects, and thrills just about every minute of this movie. Some people will argue that this makes “The Goonies” quite noisy, but if you’ve gotten into the spirit of things by the time the adventurous second half comes around, it’s more appreciated. It’s a nice mixture of the joyful and the macabre.

I mentioned the overuse of profanity in this movie. Oddly enough, for a PG-rated family movie, the “s” word is said about 19 times, and this created a huge controversy when it was released. But it reminded me of the line in Spielberg’s “E.T.” when a kid called his older brother “penis-breath”—kids love to incorporate vulgarity into their everyday conversations because it just sounds cooler and more honorable to them. Plus, they can be funny when used right. Also, I should add that these kids act and talk like real kids should, right from the beginning. In the first half, they’re all constantly talking over each other, interrupting each other, arguing, trading insults—just like any group of kids would do!

I can’t deny that most of the Goonies are stereotypes—the wisecracking cutup, the Asian inventive genius, and of course, the fat kid. Every “fat-kid” stereotype that can be found in some family movies can be traced back to Chunk in this movie. He eats constantly, he loves to talk about eating, and constantly complains about everything. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t garner a few funny moments every once in a while, but the bit starts to become old…until when he’s captured by the Fratellis. Chunk is not with the others for most of the action; he’s locked inside the old restaurant with the other Fratelli—a deformed, Quasimodo-like figure named Sloth (John Matuszak) who is chained to the wall in the basement where he watches TV. And he’s just as hungry as Chunk is, which means they have something in common. This is where Chunk becomes less of a stereotype and more of a three-dimensional character, as he develops a sort of bond with Sloth (and they even share a Baby Ruth bar together).

The rest of the kids remain within their stereotypes, but they’re still likeable and quite memorable. Mikey is the brave leader, keeping the others in line, including his older brother; Brand is the strongest and oldest whose only concern is impressing Andy; Mouth and Stef deliver some witty one-liners; Data’s gadgets come in handy; and Andy…is pretty much the damsel-in-distress waiting for Brand to save her. If you thought Willie from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” did very little, Andy does even less. Though, to her credit, she is the one who plays the bone-piano and manages to play enough right notes to save everyone’s lives. (And she remembers the retrieve the map afterward when everyone else forgets about it—somehow, that little moment is quite satisfying.)

The soundtrack, by Dave Grusin, is fantastic as well—ranging from soft and whimsical to grand and adventurous.

“The Goonies” is fast, funny, cheerful, gruesome, and flat-out entertaining. The adventure sequences are a lot of fun, the sets are unique, the Goonies themselves are fun to watch as they solve clue after clue, Richard Donner’s direction is very brisk, and…you know, I could go on and on about how much I love this movie (despite its flaws I already mentioned), but this review is already so long that I have to quit while I’m ahead. Bottom line here—“The Goonies” is a real treasure.

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