Perhaps grasping for a little of the magic he found when directing Ghostbusters, Ivan Reitman begins his Junior in the same way as his breakthrough film -- in a library with long spooky shots down deserted library aisles. But no specters appear. Instead, we're introduced to Dr. Alex Hesse (Arnold Schwarzenegger, who these days, and especially in the suit he wears as Hesse, looks enough like Herman Munster to be a bit spooky). The bogeyman in this scene, though, is a baby, a tiny, helpless infant alone amongst the stacks of books. Dr. Hesse, befuddled and clumsy, picks up the infant, who promptly pees. As he looks around desperately for help, he sees that the entire library is full of wailing infants. It's a dream; Dr. Hesse is having a nightmare about babies.
Of course, anyone even vaguely familiar with kids and movies will recognize parts of this. For urinating infant, see Three Men and a Baby; for clumsy giant Arnold being overwhelmed by the young, see Kindergarten Cop (a Reitman product, by the way). And for giant Arnold teamed with diminutive Danny DeVito, see not only Junior but Twins (another Reitman product; are we witnessing a trend here?).
But while Junior isn't going to win any prizes for originality, it doesn't get demerits for sloppiness either. Arnold, Danny and Ivan may have been this way before, but they know what they're doing. After all, ham sandwiches aren't very surprising, but a good one can be thoroughly enjoyable. And the pros here at least get the elements of their sandwich put properly in place.
The main element here is Dr. Hesse, whose dreams of offspring aren't out of character. Hesse is engaged in infertility research, in particular the development of Expectane, a wonder drug for healthy pregnancies that's supposed to make preemies and miscarriages things of the past. Hesse's partner is Dr. Larry Arbogast (Danny DeVito). Just when our improbable science team is on the verge of their breakthrough, mean old Frank Langella, as the executive-type bad guy, cancels our heroes' joint project and moves flighty yet cute as a bug Dr. Diana Reddin (Emma Thompson), who's doing her own frozen ovum experiments, into the lab.
Hesse and Arbogast have worked so hard, so long, that they're not about to let their project be canceled. But how can the world learn the wonders of Expectane? Unless they can test the drug on at least one human subject. But where would they find a woman willing to test the drug... Anyone over five can guess the rest.
Rabbit Test did womb envy 16 years ago, but a pregnant Arnold is a more intriguing sight than was a pregnant Billy Crystal. And Junior has the added bonus of Emma Thompson, whose earnest, accident-prone researcher is absolutely delightful. Cary Grant did a number of charming, nerdy scientists in his screwball days, and Thompson has as much or more charm in her lab-coated character. She is in turns squinting and scrunching her nose in confusion and then completely wide-eyed and frank. Examples of her awkwardness -- a square of processed cheese stuck to her cheek, toilet paper on her pump -- are a bit too much, but Thompson plays the fool with as much flair as possible. It's a shame that her role wasn't written with a lighter touch and more of a shame that Junior is such a buddy movie that we don't see much of her.
Still, those buddies are as good as they have to be. And if you're not too hot for something new, Junior will do you just fine.
Directed by Ivan Reitman. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito and Emma Thompson.
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