MAD: Blank Check

(1994 Disney/Watched on DVD)

This is a weird combination of The Secret of My Success, Big, and Home Alone. I’d not seen it before, but after describing it to Lyra (as it was mentioned in a *Bad Reviews Against Humanity* episode) she’s been asking for it, since her chief interests involve seeing adults getting trounced by kids of the kind who can afford to buy themselves a garbage can full of ice cream.

Eleven year old Preston has money worries, and is the only one in his gaggle of friends, none of whom seem to care about him one iota, who can’t afford to go on any rides in their visit to a token-operated theme park. After the concept of checking accounts is explained to an audience of children largely ignorant to the tedious intricacies of banking, by way of a blank birthday check from grandma, he gets his bike crushed by a criminal who unwisely and dismissively pays him off with a cheque, likewise of unspecified amount.

The way he actually goes from there to ending up with a million dollars in hard cash in his backpack truly stretches the limit of adult scrutiny. He then buys the local castle and installs a go-kart track, a water slide, a batting cage, a giant hamster ball and a 1993 Virtual Reality setup (which we never get to see the inside of, which is a shame because you know it would have been ludicrous.

All this is under the assumed fake identity of a Mr Apple Macintosh, a mysterious man nobody meets, but who uses a twelve year old boy as his consigliere. Not one adult ever questions this. Preston is vaguely aided by his new manchild chauffeur, played by Rick Ducommen. This was one of the key weaknesses in the film. Your kid’s confidant has to be played by someone the audience can latch on to, and who quickly works out the truth, that this boy is out of his depth. I spent two acts trying to work out whether Henry was immature, just dim or pulling a burn. This is a role for a Sinbad (First Kid) or best of all a Hector Elizondo (The Princess Diaries). Either clearly a goofball that everyone can laugh AT and WITH or clearly a rock, that can see the mistakes this young boy is about making and the valuable lessons he’s about to learn. Ironically Tone Lōc who plays a henchman in this would have been a much better fit for the role; a relaxed guy presented in a smart suit, but ultimately the most human person in the film. Effectively he’s the adults in the audience, because lord knows we don’t want to be the gullible simpletons a plot like this requires the world to be populated with.

There’s a weirdly unsettling sub-plot about Shay, the FBI agent investigating Preston and this mysterious Mr Macintosh. She’s in her early thirties and played by the rather attractive Karen Duffy. Preston not only seems enamoured of her but conducts a clumsy courtship ritual, including taking her out to a lobster dinner and saturating her in a fountain without asking first. There’s just a few too many moments where we get to see him in the swimming pool, framed by her shapely, bare legs as she stands over him, and the alarming kiss on the lips at the end that reminds us he’s close to *one third her age* and if the genders were reversed this movie would have difficulty being released. Why is it ok for the dads in the audience to think, “Man I would have hit that shit when I was twelve”?

The third act comes to a climax when sadly departed Miguel Ferrer kicks down multiple incredibly flimsy doors to invade this kid’s castle, and, if I’m reading this rightly, STRANGLE his million dollars back out of this minor. Cue Disney making up for putting out Rescuers Down Under up against Home Alone four years earlier and losing big time, as just like their live action remake of 101 Dalmatians, the lions share of the end is devoted to bumbling burglars getting the shit knocked out of them in various undignified ways. One of these involves forcing a pudgy man in his fifties to experience virtual reality; his spasmodic, limb-flailing reaction suggests it’s like eXistenZ in there. That’s the part of the movie I wish we’d gotten to see, polygonal Cronenberg, because it was the most memorable bit of Disclosure, but of course, no parent needs to speculate on what is inside a kid’s computer game, circa 1994. So the baddies are badly hurt, the police move in and the scam is rumbled, but not before Preston realises that he’s the fool easily parted from his gold.

The movie ends with him being reunited with the family who don’t seem to have noticed he’s been largely absent for a few weeks, and he blows out his birthday cake candles and clearly makes the wish that he could have sex with Shay. He has a look in his eye that suggests Alex from Clockwork Orange, he hasn’t learned a damn thing and he’s been an odious little gobshite from start to finish, who now definitely wants to make a felon out of a professional government agent. Cut to credits.

There’s a bit before this when the party guests are leaving and his table full of presents gets raided. One guy picks up a big one that’s clearly just an empty cardboard box that’s been half covered in gift wrap. It’s so huge and blatant, showing plainly that only the part of the box that was on display on the table needed to have the shiny blue paper, and I cannot believe this shot wasn’t caught in the edit. Clearly the director, Rupert Wainright, is making a bold statement on the slapdash state of kid’s entertainment in the early 90s. They have it so much better now, and that is a very good thing.

Author: Alex Shaw

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1 Comment

  1. This is in retrospect, just a bizarre movie. I was a teenager when I first saw this movie, so the creepy nature of the older woman/younger boy thing didn’t really impact me until I considered it later when Doug Walker did his review of it. I watched it back then with my younger siblings, and they liked it more, in that wish fulfillment for kids perspective. Even then, I knew it was stupid, but there was some enjoyment over it and wondering what I’d have done with that sort of money — I certainly wouldn’t have been stupid enough to waste money on an ugly castle house.

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