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  D.A.R.Y.L. Whizz Kid
Year: 1985
Director: Simon Wincer
Stars: Barret Oliver, Mary Beth Hurt, Michael McKean, Kathryn Walker, Colleen Camp, Josef Sommer, Ron Frazier, Steve Ryan, David Wohl, Danny Corkill, Amy Linker, Ed Grady, Tucker McGuire, Richard Hammatt
Genre: Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: A car speeds along a winding mountain road as a helicopter flies overhead in hot pursuit, but once out of sight of the aircraft for a minute, the driver allows the boy in the back seat to get out and flee into the forest. Then the car shoots off, through a wall and plummets hundreds of feet into the river below. Meanwhile, the boy meets an elderly couple who ask him his name; "Daryl" he replies, but when pressed on any other details, such as where his parents are, he draws a blank. He is quickly taken into care, and while his mother and father are located a foster couple look after him, not realising that Daryl (Barret Oliver) is no ordinary ten-year-old boy...

That's because he is a space alien - oh, wait a minute, that was E.T., no, Daryl is actually a child with a robot brain, but this was one of a spate of kiddie-friendly science fiction movies that proliferated in the wake of the Steven Spielberg family favourite. None of them hit as big as their main influence, but that whole "make American suburbia look as authentic as possible while still being a place where wonders could occur" dynamic was in cinemas every week during the eighties, or so it seemed. Although this one was decidedly minor in its success, it nevertheless did enjoy a small following among those who watched and rewatched it as children.

Trouble is, although at that age they were not quite so aware of how they were being pandered to, the kids could have done better and so, for that matter, could the filmmakers. D.A.R.Y.L. is very much a film of two halves, the first one being all that suburbia business where our hero is domesticised by his new parents (Mary Beth Hurt and Michael McKean) and his new best friend Turtle (Danny Corkill). The plot goes through the motions of making the boy out to be a prodigy of some sort, but not so much that he is alienating, only to the extent that he provides a wish fulfilment element to the proceedings.

This translates as Daryl being an exemplary student (he can correct Turtle's test answers better than his teacher!), and so as not to put off those who like sport as opposed to learning, he's damn good at baseball too. This is very cosy, and Hurt and McKean send their niceness into overdrive as the doting but childless couple, all the better to amp up the sentimentality when - gulp - Daryl's real parents show up. They are immediately suspicious, and we are meant to be in the dark about what precisely their interest in the boy is, though as it was plastered all over the advertising there can be few who are surprised when these two turn out to be the scientists who designed him.

That's right, Daryl is D.A.R.Y.L., a Data Analysing Robotic Youth Lifeform (do you think they dreamed up the name before they created him?), who is not quite a robot, as he was grown from a test tube as his scientist "father" (Josef Sommer) informs us, but does have a computer for a brain. Now those scheming military types want to shut him down, but the theme of parents wishing to look after their offspring, which is complicated by neither couple being biologically related to him, is taken to its natural conclusion as the boy is saved from the clutches of those who would wish to see him replaced with a supersoldier. No matter that presumably after a while Daryl would grow up to be exactly that, we have to be treated to farcical sequences of the child getting into car chases and flying spy planes as he escapes. What's really missing here is any pizazz, any genuine humour, and as a result the film is functional, but a little drab in the long run. Music by Marvin Hamlisch.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Simon Wincer  (1943 - )

Australian director who began working in TV in his homeland. Directed the horror flick Snapshot, before heading to Hollywood scoring a hit with the sci-fi adventure D.A.R.Y.L. Wincer had success on the small screen with the award-winning western Lonesome Dove and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and on the big screen directed the likes of Free Willy, Quigley Down Under and The Phantom.

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