Spielberg gave his old pal Joe Dante another shot at making what is essentially a new “Gremlins”, but apparently lost his nerve in the final print.
“Small Soldiers” is the story of two sets of action figures possessing military artificial intelligence chips. While the toys were only meant to play back with the children, the military toys expand on their original programming to annihilate the other line at ALL costs. Hilarity ensues. It looks like the movie was edited down from a much meaner version, to our loss. I realize Burger King might be hesitant to tie a theme-meal into a movie where toys fire nail guns at cute children, but that was the film I was hoping for. A lot of mean stuff remains, but Dante isn’t allowed to dwell on it.
As for the performances, Phil Hartman just plays the annoying neighbor, some kind of stock character for him. Kirsten Dunst (“Interview with a Vampire”, “Jumanji”) is a revelation after the fun starts and she turns maniacally destructive.
Overall, this is another case of Dreamworks losing nerve and dropping the ball at the last minute. Just because they want to be a real Hollywood studio doesn’t mean they have to screw up their product like a real Hollywood studio.