- Jul 8, 2001
Studio: Columbia Tri-Star
Film Length: 114 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio: DD 2.0 Surround
Subtitles: English, Japanese
Release Date: October 12
:star: :star: (All star ratings out of five)
"Radio Flyer" either works for you, or it really doesn't. Put me in
the latter category.
If you're a fan of this film, I mean no disrespect. I'll simply
describe it, and try to explain why I had such an extreme negative
reaction. One man's garbage, after all, is another's treasure. That is
if the guys picking over my trash every week are to be believed.
"Radio Flyer" wants very badly to be a moving, sentimental story about
two young brothers making the most of the unpleasantness that defines
their upbringing. Narrated by one of the brother's adult self (Tom
Hanks, in an uncredited role), it's an exercise in magical realism and
the unreliable narrator. The vast majority of the story is told in
The two boys (Elijah Wood and Joseph Mazzello) are leaving with their
mother (Lorraine Bracco) on a long trip across the country following
the dissolution of their parents' marriage. On the way, they meet a
buffalo who appears to be crying because he's lonely. "Maybe he's the
last buffalo in the world," one of the boys says. Yeah, right, maybe.
According to Mike (Wood), his younger brother has some sort of special
gift. He seems like a pretty normal kid with a gift for irritating
dialogue. Somehow, I don't think that's what Mike is talking about, as
he shares the very same gift. There must be something else.
The boys' new life in the suburbs starts pretty well – they find a
turtle and some frogs, and their dog attacks some Mexican children.
Ah, to be young. Soon, though, the dude their mother is shacking up
with – his name is The King – is pounding cheap beers at an alarming
rate and severely beating Bobby just for kicks.
The boys, inspired by a legendary neighborhood daredevil kid, start
making something out of lawnmower parts and their Radio Flyer wagon.
They need to get away from The King, who enjoys nothing more than
listening to country music, raiding the beer fridge (yes, he has a
separate fridge just for beer) and becoming enraged for no particular
reason. Their mother, who seemed initially to have her act together,
is now largely absent.
The child abuse that is central to this plot is treated so bizarrely
that it verges on trivializing it. When Bobby's mother is about to
finally see the bruises that cover his body, Mike jumps into a bathtub
fully clothed. Hahahaha. Are we meant to feel relieved that they've
managed to hide the fact that The King is a brooding psychotic from
the one person who could help them? It sure feels like it.
Moments of magical realism intended to prepare us for the film's
ludicrous, unsatisfying and offensive conclusion are just weird. The
aforementioned buffalo returns with some words of wisdom, for example.
Director Richard Donner makes the dubious decision to have the boys
chattering constantly, filling the soundtrack with forced, awkward
exclamations like "Yeah! Let's go! Boy! Golly!" No child actor could
make this stuff sound natural, and the two principals here don't stand
a chance. Both give annoying, sappy, sugar coated performances – the
only two performances in the film that matter, aside from the dog.
Though this has the spirit of a children's film, it's hardly
appropriate for the ten to twelve year-olds who might be able to meet
it at its level. Why subject your children to a movie in which a
vicious child abuser routinely beats the hell out of one of the
protagonists? Why make it seem as though the best thing to do when
trapped in such a situation is to hide it from everyone and try to
escape it by running (or flying) away?
Those (adults) whose taste buds are not as sensitive to saccharine
treacle might well enjoy this film, and indeed it has many fans. I do
not begrudge these folks their entertainment. The ambiguity inherent
in the way the story is told allows for many interpretations of the
events that occur, and many find that to be one of the film's great
strengths. But critical thinking is bound by what is in the text, and
what can be reasonably inferred. In this case, we have a hodgepodge
of clichés masquerading as real emotion. The writer's experiences
(David Evans has said that this film is largely autobiographical)
should not be taken into account – a cliché is a cliché, whether it
happened "in real life" or not.
This is a middle of the pack transfer that serves the purposes of the
film while never drawing attention to itself positively or negatively.
Colors are generally a little oversaturated and run toward green and
yellow for some reason. My system seems to be quite sensitive to film
grain, and there is quite a bit of that on display, particularly in
large, solid areas of color. Blacks are not very deep, though the
shadow detail in the ending scenes, which take place at night, is
sufficient to discern what is happening (to the extent we're meant to
know, anyway). Skin tones are generally lifelike, but there's very
little detail, even in close-ups. That softness extends throughout the
whole film, and may well be intentional, either to mask problems with
the source (during the transfer process) or to add to the haze of
memory that clouds the narrative.
:star: :star: :star:
Like the transfer, the audio track delivers what it needs to without being overtly noticeable. All dialogue is crystal clear, and film's few sound effects are good enough. No complaints here, but nothing spectacular either. Which is probably for the best.
The fan base for this film is pretty well established, and it’s a bit of mystery why it took so long to show up on DVD. This is a fair presentation of the film, though hardcore fans might resent the lack of features (a commentary track with Evans could’ve been very good). Will this release earn the film new fans and establish it as a cult hit? It’s possible, as the film has aged fairly well. Though I obviously didn't care for the film, this DVD release is long overdue.