½*/**** Image B Sound D
starring Mary Beth Hurt, Michael McKean, Kathryn Walker, Colleen Camp
screenplay by David Ambrose & Allan Scott and Jeffrey Ellis
directed by Simon Wincer
by Walter Chaw D.A.R.Y.L. is nigh unwatchable mid-Eighties fantasy dreck--toss this one on the scrap pile with Condorman and Krull. Its main character, a "Data Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform" acronymistically nicknamed Daryl (Barret Oliver), is lost in an opening helicopter chase like the dog in John Carpenter's The Thing before the film proceeds to rip-off every other '80s sci-fi flick that preceded it (Starman, E.T., The Last Starfighter, War Games, Firefox, and on and on). Daryl is discovered by a kindly elderly couple (the requisite Superman steal), placed in the foster care of preternaturally sunny Mr. & Mrs. Richardson (Michael McKean and Mary Beth Hurt), and then goes on to be really good at Atari, baseball, and picking up bad habits from his chubby, sewer-mouthed little pal Turtle (Danny Corkill). Then the MIBs come a-knockin', natch.
The main problem with this thing (besides the direction and the writing and, oh what the heck, the special effects, the performances, and the score) is that no one in it acts like a human being. Turtle isn't jealous that perfect Daryl is perfect; the Stepford parents are plastic-unpleasant in every situation (consider the Bad News Bears little league contest where both Hurt and McKean have a moment to behave really ugly); and the FBI doesn't blink twice in granting visitation rights to the Richardsons, even though Daryl is a top-secret multi-million-dollar piece of hardware. Later, the same FBI doesn't anticipate that the rogue robot is looking to get "home," and then doesn't have the foresight to examine wreckage of their recently pilfered super-jet as it rains down bits of fiery debris across what I can only imagine is someone's backyard. D.A.R.Y.L. is awful, sure, but it's also astonishingly stupid. A five-year-old could punch holes in its logic.
The potential for wondering about the A.I. implications of adopting a really advanced toaster is tossed by the wayside with as much feckless disregard as greets the last twenty minutes of this passionless play. The earlygoing has a little camp value (as does the sort of surprise resurrection that ends the shipwreck), but once we get to the television-screen dystopia (The Man Who Fell to Earth) of the science lab where Daryl was born, things go straight to "I'm all out of ideas. You?" hell. With this film followed close by the equally irritating Short Circuit, the dark side of the Eighties being the most productive period in fantasy and science-fiction since the 1920s is that for every classic, there are two remora-like flicks like D.A.R.Y.L. seeking to suck a little sustenance off the zeitgeist. Avoid at all costs.
Paramount releases D.A.R.Y.L. on DVD to unsuspecting nostalgia collectors in a clean 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that nevertheless demonstrates director Simon Wincer's gift for squandering the widescreen format. Every shot is framed for television--small wonder that his greatest triumph remains the TV miniseries Lonesome Dove. (It doesn't help matters that cinematographer Frank Watts toiled almost exclusively on the small screen.) If colours have that mid-'80s mute and bleed, at least edge enhancement is negligible. Not that I was really paying attention. The DD 2.0 soundtrack is among the worst I've heard since we stopped reviewing Artisan product: The dialogue is extraordinarily weak, and the appalling score and tinny sound effects (the entire baseball game is prime for muting) blare with the earnestness of the truly undeserving. You could enjoy the flick if you were to constantly adjust your listening levels--but that presupposes enjoying the flick if it had a properly mixed audio. There are no special features. Originally published: November 23, 2004.