*/**** Image A Sound A Extras B-
starring Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green
screenplay by Chris Columbus
directed by Richard Donner
by Walter Chaw I went to see The Goonies at the age of twelve because I was a Cyndi Lauper fan. As co-star Ke Huy-Quan (now "Jonathan Ke Quan") hammed it up, I glimpsed the torments of my upcoming sixth-grade year. See, Quan in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom doomed me to being called "Short Round" for several months, accompanied by Pidgin English recreations of choice line readings ("You caw heem Meesta Jones, Doll!")--which was admittedly better than the "Wassa happenin' hot stuff?" jibes inspired by Gedde Watanabe's legendary act of race betrayal as Long Duk Dong in John Hughes's execrable Sixteen Candles.
For a Chinese boy in the United States of the mid-1980s, the choices for a cinematic role model were between the "ah, so"/Fu Manchu archetype of Mr. Miyagi, Quan's gibberish ("Thas' whad I say! Booty-twaps!"), and Wattanabe's sex-crazed, boggle-eyed capering. They became my crucible and a vehicle for some classmates' easy hatred and casual racism--trends that took a different form in the cinema of the Nineties but perhaps not so curiously pervade nearly every aspect of our collective national consciousness to this day. The Goonies is my generation's Gunga Din: ugly, patronizing, loud, slapstick, and predictably popular, with a cheap redemption theme tacked on at the end to sweeten the fetid stew.
Often thought of as the Reagan era's quintessential film (put my vote in for Wall Street), Richard Donner's The Goonies is an unbearable collection of hateful racial stereotypes, cheap shots at fat kids and asthmatics, horrendous performances, gratuitous leg-warmers, and recycled bits from dinosaur sitcoms that weren't really that funny the first time around. If you're dying to see Corey Feldman recreate the Chuy episode of "Leave It To Beaver", your prayers will be answered within the first ten minutes of the film. The Goonies is so hamstrung by the fashion, venality, and closet racism of its time that the only possible appeal it could hold for a self-aware viewer is that of an uneasy nostalgia. It's never a pleasant thing to remember exactly what kind of bullshit was fed to us as children, and worse to recall how willingly we gulped it down and called it honey.
A weird social caste/treasure flick that amalgamates The Dirty Dozen, The Outsiders, and Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold, The Goonies follows the exploits of a group of kid-adventurers best described with individual adjectives followed by "one." There's the fat one (Chunk: Jeff Cohen), the geeky one (Data: Quan), the Eddie Haskell one (Mouth: Corey Feldman), the older one (Brand: Josh Brolin), the tart one of questionable beauty (Andy: Kerri Green), and the sickly inhaler one (Mikey: Sean Astin). Calling themselves "Goonies" because they live in the "Goondocks" (uh huh), these irrepressible youngsters discover a pirate's map, the found gold of which could save their slum from evil developers looking to revitalize their area. You know you're in trouble if Chris Columbus is associated with a film in any way, much less as screenwriter, and you're also right to fear bad things when Steven Spielberg produces. If The Goonies succeeds at one thing, it's in charting the steady artistic decline of not only its chief "brain" trust, but also Cyndi Lauper and every single member of its cast save the suddenly popular Josh Brolin.
Forgetting for a moment that a character is shot off a cliff at over fifty miles an hour for giggles and that the fat kid spends the majority of his screentime begging for a Twinkie, the most disturbing aspect of The Goonies is naming the pirate "One-Eyed Willy." The arguments for The Goonies as some sort of Freudian puberty drama have validity, though that does little to aid in the enjoyment of this high-decibel gripe-fest. Discontent with staying an incoherent screaming contest, there are actually sequences designed to incorporate banging pipes and ear-splitting monologues from Chunk and the bimbo tart. The film is inconceivably bad--every minute of it save, perhaps, for a sly reference to Donner's own Superman.
There's a scene towards the blissful end of The Goonies wherein the cheap freak uplift device Sloth (John Matuszak) is seen chained to a wall watching Errol Flynn's swashbuckling Captain Blood. Retarded at the least and emotionally devastated at the best, even Sloth has the good sense not to watch the movie that he's in. Would that the same could be said for me.
The long-awaited DVD release of The Goonies exceeds every technical expectation. Save for sketchy shadow detail (turn the lights down for this one), the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is extremely clean, particularly for a film that turns sixteen this year. There are remarkably few digital artifacts and edge enhancement isn't obvious. The colours are a touch muted, although you never get the feeling that they're tired or washed-out: black is black and flesh tones are natural. The ability to read a suicide note with the same ease as One-Eyed Willie's treasure map stands as testament to the telecine operator's craft. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio remix is stunning in its complete usage of the surround environment. A swarm of bats that aren't quite as neat-looking as they were sixteen years ago is conveyed in a noisy tapestry that is a showpiece for the format. Early dialogue scenes have curious garbling and distortion, but as it's not severe (and not evident after the first twenty minutes), the flaw feels more unavoidable than accidental.
An audio commentary features director Donner along with each of the seven Goonies all grown up: Feldman, Brolin, Green, Quan, Cohen, Astin, and Plimpton. Periodically, the film will reduce to a frame in the lower right corner while video of the aged gang takes front and centre. It's sort of interesting to see how they turned out (Green is especially attractive these days; Feldman is still weaselly), but the commentary is pretty much a "fans only" treat: it is as cacophonous and nonsensical as The Goonies itself. Feldman dominates the conversation with his disingenuous humility and awkward attempts at levity, and Plimpton is obsessed about how bad she looks...then, not now. Because of this, many of the anecdotes fall flat and the entire endeavour seems to be an in-joke party. For the number of people involved in the commentary, there are also a surprising number of awkward silences. I can see how it would be a fun supplement for die-hard supporters of the flick, unlikely though it is to win new followers.
There are two extended restored outtakes. The first is of a deleted convenience store scene with about five new minutes of yelling and talking over one another as the fat kid eats ice cream, and the second is of a struggle with an extremely cheesy octopus. The latter is marginally interesting in that it justifies one of the film's final lines ("The octopus was scary!"). A seven-minute "Making of" documentary features a lot of "B-roll" footage that is just not interesting--it's basically an unstructured series of images from the film that includes brief interviews with Donner and Spielberg and shots of them acting patronizing towards their child stars ("Okay-zees, whose footsies aren't on their marksies?").
A twelve-minute music video for Cyndi Lauper's "Good Enough" theme song is a bizarre and embarrassed journey down memory lane narrated by Roddy Piper, Captain Lou Albino, The Sheik, and other wrestling personalities I have proudly forgotten. Featuring the expected clips from the film, the video also has the cast of Goonies appearing in burlesque supporting roles and a quartet of Hibachi chefs who are promptly marginalized and mocked. The good old days weren't always good, but this video, more than the film, made me nostalgic for the idiotic early days of MTV. By the way, if her appearances on the repugnant "Mad About You" weren't proof enough, Cyndi Lauper is not an actress. An original theatrical trailer that doesn't do very much to remind what it was that seemed appetizing to us about The Goonies in the first place rounds out the disc, along with a "cast & filmmakers" option that is very simply the cast and filmmakers listed on a mock-up of the pirate map. Originally published: September 13, 2001.