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Some twenty-odd years before David Gordon Green and his writing team
recycled stole the premise for a Jonah Hill misfire, Chris Columbus made a star of Elizabeth Shue as a slightly more competent but very tense sitter in 'Adventures in Babysitting.' As far as comparisons go, Green's comedy worked its R-rated angle in the hopes of raking in laughs, but it barely mustered a few giggles in a couple of choice moments — all of them thanks to Sam Rockwell. More interestingly, especially when revisiting a 25-year-old teen comedy, Columbus skirts the line of PG-13 acceptability in several areas and manages to be far more entertaining with plenty of good wholesome laughs.
Similarities aside, the story by David Simkins, who later worked on 'The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.' and 'Charmed,' also offers a greater sense of adventure as a group of teens travel to the city and discover its seedier side. Although the narrative is played with a lighthearted tone and a weirdly innocent outlook on everything that transpires, audiences are given a considerable sense of peril. Not entirely convincing, but seemingly life-threatening nonetheless. After inadvertently getting involved with a carjacker (Calvin Levels), the kids are chased around downtown Chicago by a pair of surprisingly scary criminals, particularly John Davis Chandler as the ringleader with an ominous name -- Bleak -- fitting given his cadaver-like appearance. Ron Canada plays his second in command.
In today's Hollywood, the criminals would like serve as a major part of the comic relief, acting like clownish, bungling buffoons. But in 'Adventures,' they're coldly determined and dangerous. This being a family film — or at least, what was thought as such back in the 80s — the Playboy which supposedly features the babysitter as that month's centerfold, a running gag offering a variety of good chuckles, would probably be replaced with a Motor Trend magazine or something. The impending violence in the subway scene would be completely altered, replacing certain language with the word "freaking" instead, and who knows if the final climatic sequence atop the Smurfit-Stone Building would be as hair-raising.
Now, I'm not trying to intentionally harp on the somewhat neutered quality of contemporary family fare — okay, maybe I am, but only a little — but in revisiting 'Adventures in Babysitting,' I'm left reminiscing about the days when major Hollywood productions felt more comfortable being a bit edgy. Admittedly, the movie is rather silly and greatly sustained by nostalgia, though it doesn't quite satisfy the high entertainment value I seem to recall, but there's also a good deal of amusing style and heart shedding some light on the script's darker aspects, making it loads of fun for the entire family. Columbus succeeds terrifically in balancing some of the plot's more mature characteristics, like Chris's (Shue) boyfriend issues, with an assortment of verbal jokes and physical humor.
Best friend Daryl (Anthony Rapp) is a hormonally-raging teen trying to party with alcohol-drinking college students and meet girls. This is countered with the heartwarming and loving relationship of the two siblings, love-struck Brad (Keith Coogan) and the Thor-obsessed Sara (Maia Brewton). That last bit leads to a funny and strangely inspiring sequence with a very young Vincent D'Onofrio. Scenes with tow-truck driver "Handsome" John Pruitt (John Ford Noonan) are balanced with hilarious encounters at a creepy bus station, as Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller) frantically waits to be picked up by Chris. 'Adventures in Babysitting' remains an amusing 100-minutes of underage danger and excitement, better than many of today's family features or R-rated garbage like 'The Sitter.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Walt Disney Studios and Touchstone Home Entertainment bring 'Adventures in Babysitting' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc, inside a blue eco-lite keepcase. At startup, several skippable trailers including a promo for 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' kick things off. Afterwards, a still photo with music serves as the main menu screen with standard options.
The babysitter hits the road in style with this attractive but slightly troubled 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Simply put, the movie hasn't aged all that well, showing a great deal of softness throughout. Much of it, I'm sure, is inherent to the print used, but made quite apparent by the upgrade to high-definition. Nevertheless, the transfer is an improvement over its standard-def counterpart with well-balanced contrast and deep, strong black levels. The 1.85:1 frame is awash with a consistent and thinly-layered grain structure, giving it a nice film-like appearance. There are moments when it can look a bit digitized, but for the most part, it appears natural and unobtrusive. The rest of the picture displays very good fine object and textural details, and colors are boldly rendered, especially the primaries.
Although labeled as 5.1, this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a very front-heavy, stereo-like affair, as it should be. Dialogue takes center stage and prioritized over the rest of the track, so fans can hear every word and joke with excellent clarity, making one reminisce on the days when PG-13 seemed a bit more risqué. Channel separation is well-balanced with smooth panning across the soundstage and terrific directionality of the off-screen effects, making for a broad and welcoming image. The mid-range is clean and detailed but fairly flat in the higher frequencies. In fact, the lossless mix doesn't offer very much in terms of dynamics and acoustics, though the wonderful song selections are delivered with good fidelity, just not all that articulate or expressive. Low bass, on the other hand, is healthy and robust, noticeable only when the music plays.
This is a bare-bones release.
Starring Elizabeth Shue, 'Adventures in Babysitting' remains a fun and amusing 100-minute adventure for the whole family. With Christopher Columbus at the helm, the 80s teen comedy delivers a great balance of lighthearted humor and some mild edginess pushing the action forward. The Blu-ray arrives with very a good audio and video presentation, but offers nothing in the way of special features. In the end, this bare-bones package will satisfy fans who know the movie as a childhood favorite, but others may want to check it out first.