An unemployed writer (Richard Pryor) finds himself working for a wealthy Louisiana tycoon’s (Jackie Gleason) ill-mannered son (Scott Schwartz), who buys him and plays with him as if he were a toy. Poorly scripted, directed and acted, woefully unfunny and morally cloudy, The Toy is a reprehensible waste of two comic legends. Good picture and sound on this Blu-ray disc from Image can’t make up for the film’s myriad of problems. The Toy (1982) Studio: Columbia Pictures (distributed by Image) Year: 1982 Rated: PG Length: 102 Minutes Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Resolution: 1080p Languages: English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish MSRP: $17.97 Film Release Date: December 10, 1982 Disc Release Date: January 24, 2012 Review Date: January 25, 2012 The Movie: 1/5 Richard Pryor’s stand-up comedy was fearless and uncompromising in his take on race relations, current events and deep personal travails; he was able to parlay his stand-up success into a film career. Jackie Gleason also had a respectable film career in addition to the TV icon status The Honeymooners earned him; Smokey and the Bandit had given it a huge shot in the arm. In 1982, the two comic titans got together in The Toy and didn’t make movie magic. Jack Brown (Pryor) is an unemployed journalist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana whose girlfriend (Annazette Chase) runs an activist group dedicated to tracking the activities of the KKK. Desperate to get any job at the local paper in order to save his house from foreclosure, he takes a job working at a department store owned by the paper’s wealthy publisher, U.S. Bates (Gleason). While fumbling and bumbling in the toy department, Bates’ spoiled son Eric (Scott Schwartz), who is on a one-week vacation from military school, has been promised he can have anything he wants. When he sees Jack fumbling with an inflatable wheel, he asks for his father’s associates to buy him. Sydney Morehouse (Ned Beatty), his father’s personal assistant, tries to explain that you cannot buy and sell human beings, but Eric insists. On the condition that he gets paid for doing so, Jack agrees to live in the mansion for a week and be Eric’s friend. When Jack gets tired of Eric treating him like a toy and threatens to quit, the elder Bates offers him enough money to pay his debts. Jack takes the money and stays, determined to turn Eric around. Eventually, they form a bond and even start their own newspaper, digging up dirt on Bates and spreading it around town. Needless to say, this does nothing to heal the fractured relationship between Eric and his father. The film was adapted from the 1976 French film Le Jouet, written and directed by Francis Veber, who is no stranger to American adaptations of his work; La Cage aux Folles became The Birdcage, The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe became The Man with One Red Shoe, and, more recently, The Dinner Game became Dinner for Schmucks. Unfortunately, not all those Americanized versions worked, and this is not one of them. Like the dominoes U.S. Bates keeps in his den, Carol Sobieski’s witless, contrived, manipulative and morally confused script is the domino that knocks all the others down. It’s an ill-conceived mish-mash of second-rate slapstick, maudlin sentimentality, hypocritical stereotyping, undernourished characterization and an attitude towards class relations that was cliché in 1932, never mind 1982. It can’t decide whether it’s about racism, classism, integrity, or human decency. Richard Donner does nothing to guide it in the right direction, cluelessly playing up all these elements in the hopes that something will stick, but his efforts all in vain. It fails miserably as comedy, drama, satire, and morality play, but even if he had picked one approach and stuck with it throughout the film, none of them would have been effective. He is also unclear on the intended audience for this PG-rated film; it seems to be aimed at families but it sprinkles sex jokes throughout, including one involving a fully nude painting of Eric’s stepmother. It’s too smutty for kids and too juvenile for adults. With such rotten material to work with, the cast makes little to no effort to make their characters remotely believable or something other than despicable. Pryor spends half the film knocking things over, getting things thrown at him, and having food dumped on him, and the other half trying to teach Eric that money doesn’t buy happiness while getting paid to be his friend. Gleason is unconvincing as a wealthy tycoon, Ned Beatty embarrasses himself as Bates’ drunken assistant, Wilfrid Hyde-White is horribly underused as the butler, and as Eric’s stepmother, Teresa Ganzel has the worst Southern accent in the history of film. Other characters come and go without any reason or rhyme, such as Karen Leslie-Lyttle’s ridiculous German nanny who watches Nazi propaganda on tape while trying to seduce Jack. What purpose does this character serve? How does her presence move the story forward or illuminate any of the characters’ motivations? Why does she seem like a rip-off of Inga Swenson’s character from Benson? Nobody knows and, quite frankly, nobody cares. Scott Schwartz is the only one who at least tries to make lemonade out of the lemon handed to him. He tries his best to make Eric’s transformation into a decent human being believable, but swimming against the tide of a horrible script that its director cannot salvage, he simply comes off as obnoxious throughout the film. In the original movie, the title character was a white Frenchman. Casting Richard Pryor added a racial element that caused critics to accuse the film of racism for the fact that the film revolves around a rich white boy who “buys” a black man. Yet it’s unlikely that Pryor would have done the film had he found it offensive; he almost quit Stir Crazy because of a cameraman who used a watermelon slice as a Frisbee and ceased using racial slurs in his act after a trip to Africa. Maybe instead of accusing the film of racism, critics of the time should have pointed out its cognitive dissonance. It hypocritically tries to condemn racism while making fun of Germans, women, rich people and especially Southerners. The critics’ disdain for the film couldn’t keep it from grossing a respectable $47,118,057 at the box office, coming in 14th place for the year. I guess children liked the copious number of toys seen in the film. They could easily have stayed home and played with their own toys. The Video: 3.5/5 The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The razor-sharp AVC-encoded transfer features a mild grain structure that increases slightly in dark scenes and a handful of dupe shots, but the film is reasonably bright throughout. Its colors, while strongly saturated, run to the cool side. The Audio: 3/5 Released in mono originally, the track is presented as a 2.0 PCM mono track. It’s a serviceable effort with slightly distorted dialogue, but Patrick Williams’ syrupy synthesized score has a good balance of frequencies and exceptionally strong bass. The Extras: 0/5 There are no extras whatsoever. Final Score: 1/5 Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason cannot save this half-baked concept or its criminally poor execution. Not funny, emotionally resonant, thematically cohesive or morally consistent, The Toy was broken out of the box. Image’s Blu-ray does a good job presenting the picture and sound, but one wishes they had expended the effort on Pryor’s concert films of the same era instead.