Toy Soldiers (1991)

25 Mar

MSDTOSO EC017

Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

How can I knock an action-thriller with good acting, great cinematography, intense action sequences, and an overall energetic, “go-for-it” spirit? “Toy Soldiers” has all of that. The action is well-staged, the acting is decent, the instrumental music score helps give the film its energy. But the main problem is that it’s utterly predictable and gives us nothing new. It’s the screenplay that really sinks “Toy Soldiers.” It’s as if a computer wrote this on a special sort of software that automatically creates screenplays—it’s written entirely in standard clichés.

Here’s the story. A Colombian terrorist’s drug-kingpin father is held by American government, and so he and his band of desperadoes, armed with dozens of explosives and weapons, take over a boarding school and make ransom demands. This boarding school is the home of the sons of some of the most powerful people in America—most of them are troublemakers. A small group of the students come up with a daring plan to outwit their captors.

Actually, the setup is interesting and the premise could make for a fun action movie, given the right talents in pre-production. But like “Red Dawn,” a film similar to this, the whole movie comes off as mechanical.

Everything feels familiar in “Toy Soldiers.” The kids’ joking-around in the opening scenes is mechanical, the authorities all act like they’ve seen countless other action movies and react the same way these sort of characters do, and the action feels like we’ve seen it all before in better movies. And do I even need to say who plays an army sergeant? No, because I already know you’re thinking of R. Lee Ermey.

The actors do their best, but even they’re let down by the script. And they are very talented actors. Louis Gossett, Jr. is the school dean who aids the FBI in a raid, Denholm Elliott is the kindly headmaster who tries to calm down the students (he even gives a history lesson in the quad, where they’re all being held), and as the kids, we have young actors Sean Astin, Wil Wheaton, and Keith Coogan, along with newcomers T.E. Russell, George Perez, and Shawn Phelan. The only character that’s interesting in this movie is the head terrorist Luis Cali, played by Andrew Divoff. Although to be fair, I think that’s because villains are usually the more interesting characters in action movies.

Being a screenwriter myself, I wish I could’ve gone back in time and wrote the entire script from scratch and handed in my own draft. I would have kept the actors, the director, and cinematographer. I just would have given crisper dialogue, added a little more satirical wit, and just gave the young heroes more to do. A good movie could have been made here. “Toy Soldiers” wasn’t it.

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