Slappy and the Stinkers

Friday January 23, 1998

     It's not "Free Willy" with a sea lion, but "Slappy and the Stinkers" is a harmless drop-off movie for the elementary-age boys not standing in line for "Spice World."
     "Drop-off" as in drop off the kids at "Slappy," pay an older sibling to watch them, then go see something more suitable for anyone over 15. This is not a family movie; you'll be squandering your quality time searching for a life lesson to share.
     From the "Rugrats" school of American social criticism--in which parental units are ciphers, even the most kindly adults are addle-brained, and kids with no supervision whatsoever are free to bike from sea to shining sea--the movie asks for a suspension of disbelief far beyond grown-up capacity.
     The Stinkers are five 7-year-olds attending the summer enrichment program of Dartmoor Academy by the grace of scholarships. A mix of bright, articulate, inventive and cuter-than-average kids, they are clearly not the prep-school type. Opera appreciation bores them. So does a trip to the aquarium, until they meet Slappy, a sea lion who exhibits a range of emotion from fear and loathing to elation and love. He also passes gas.
     You get the idea.
     Now the plan to "free" Slappy and let him cavort among the killer whales in the ocean really has nothing to do with the Stinkers' human enemy, the vain and quite stupid principal Morgan Brinway, a role gamely filled by good sport B.D. Wong.
     Brinway spends a good deal of the movie being hit by flying objects and getting in the way of the Slappy plot line, which really doesn't require Dartmoor Academy to establish the Stinkers as the "us" in us-against-the-world. On the other hand, when the Stinkers find what should have been their place in the fall TV schedule of the WB network, he'll be a useful foil to have around.
     Oddly, Slappy does not want to cavort among the whales in the ocean, nor would you if you had just spent a day eating raw fish at a party in Mr. Brinway's hot tub (and especially since sea lions are a tasty treat for killer whales!). But the evil Boccoli (Sam McMurray)--and you know he's evil because he smokes cigarettes--steals Slappy before the Stinkers can devise a really impossible-but-clever way to get him back to the aquarium. Slappy faces the prospect of spending his days jumping through hoops at a Bulgarian circus.
     The Stinkers--a Nickelodeon-ready group featuring a breakthrough performance by Carl Michael Linder as Witz, the one with the glasses who abuses his inhaler in moments of stress--do nothing really bad. Animals are smuggled from zoos and aquariums every day in the movies. They also do nothing particularly good, either, if you think about it. Just don't think about it.

Slappy and the Stinkers, 1998. PG for some crude humor, mild language and slapstick violence. TriStar Pictures and the Bubble Factory present a Sheinberg Production of a Barnet Kellman Film. Executive producer Matha Chang. Producer Sid, Bill and Jon Sheinberg. Director by Barnet Kellman. Screenplay Bob Wolterstorff and Mike Scott. Photography, Paul Maibaum. Production designer Ivo Cristante. Editor Jeff Wishengrad. Costumes Jami Burrows. Music Craig Safan. Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes. B.D. Wong as Morgan Brinway. Bronson Pinchot as Roy. Jennifer Coolidge as Harriet. Joseph Ashton as Sonny. Gary LeRoi Gray as Domino. Carl Michael Linder as Witz. Scarlett Pompers as Lucy. Travis Tedford as Loaf. Sam McMurray as Boccoli.

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