This is one of the classic ’80s kid movies and definitely the cream of the crop in that regard. I hated this movie when it came out, because like Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, I began to realize I was being pandered to as a demographic. I couldn’t have said it in those words as an ornery 14-year-old punk, but I knew what they were doing. This is the first time I’ve watched it all the way through as an adult, and I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more now that I was unfettered by adolescent rebelliousness. I saw it on Pier 46 in Hudson River Park, with a bunch of friends on blankets with beer and sandwiches, and a great crowd. Firecracker and Darth Milk, being younger than me, got to see this movie uncolored by the anger of a fro-mulleted fan of the Dead Kennedys, and helped me restore the childlike sense of wonder required to enjoy the film fully.
The movie starts off unlike a kid movie, with a prison break-out by the evil Fratelli family, witnessed by the hyper motormouth kid, Chunk. He runs to tell his other misfit friends- the asthmatic, pensive Mikey (Sean Astin, Rudy and Lord of the Taters) and his buff yet outcast big brother (Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men), wise guy “Mouth” (Corey Feldman, The Lost Boys) and the nerdy gadgetmonger “Data” (Jonathan Ke Quan), who plays a less annoying version of Short Round here. Mikey’s family is losing their house and they stumble on a treasure map when cleaning the attic; this leads them toward the rocky Pacific shores, and of course… the hideout of the Fratellis- Mama (the always excellent Anne Ramsey, Throw Momma from the Train), and her bumbling sons, played by Joey Pantoliano (Memento, the Sopranos) and Robert Davi (Raw Deal). Part of what makes the movie so good is that they are actually scary. They want to stuff Chunk’s hand in a blender to make him talk, the kids find a body in the freezer, and mean Mama Fratelli smacks the shit out of people. She even whacks Stef with a cutlass, nearly robbing our spank-banks of her splendor.
Donner’s brand of frenetic comic action that gave just the right amount of lightheartedness to the Superman movie works perfectly here. Donner has made some real crap (Scrooged, Lethal Weapon 3-4, Assassins, Radio Flyer) but would parlay this Joe Dante-lite cartoonish action into one of the best cop-buddy movies ever made (Lethal Weapon), which is amazing because his first big film was The Omen– a truly dark and sinister supernatural thriller. He moved on and made movies in his own voice after that big hit, which is admirable.
The movie manages to juggle the adventure of finding a pirate ship in your backyard- a kid’s playground fantasy come to life- with a coming of age story, where misfit kids learn about life, and get to kiss girls many years their senior through shadowy subterfuge. Thankfully other than Data, they’re not complete caricatures. Chunk perhaps, but he steals the movie. Data is the weak point of the film, with his gadgets saving the day a little too often. The chattering teeth grappling hook that saves him from spiky death is an eye-roller, but stuff like slick shoes and the boxing glove gag are just fine. I’m also very glad they cut out the octopus scene that still gets mentioned at the ending. It starts out funny, the resolution is really stupid and they were wise to leave it out.
The kids are all well cast and play it natural. Sean Astin’s Mikey may be a little too introspective, but you can imagine an asthmatic kid with an overprotective mom being a bookworm and having a lot of time to sit around and think while other kids were out playing. The girls, Andy (Kerri Green, Lucas) and the cute and feisty Stef (Martha Plimpton, Pecker) may not have a lot of screen time but manage to give off enough character to not be cut-outs. Kerri Green would be a spank bank staple, with her elfin grin and fiery hair; Martha Plimpton’s perky looks and spunky attitude have their own charms as well. But enough creepy recollections of a 14-year-old’s hormonal urges.
The real show-stealer is of course Sloth, the Fratelli’s mutant sibling they keep locked in the basement. played by footballer John Matuszak (Dr. Death from “1st and Ten”) in tons of make-up, he’s sort of a lovable Quasimodo, who befriends Chunk instead of tearing him to pieces. The fact that the scenes work when he dons pirate gear and fights off his evil brothers to the triumphant score from The Adventures of Don Juan, even pausing to tear open his shirt and reveal a Superman symbol, is a testament to not only Donner’s direction but Matuszak’s physical acting skills. It could easily be so smarmy as to be embarrassing, or come off as mean-spirited. They wisely put so much make-up on Sloth that he transcends being a deformed or mentally retarded kid, and becomes unique, so we can see that they are trying to say “even retards can be cool” without going all After School Special on us. I worked with Special Young Adults in high school, and part of me regrets never finding out what some of them thought about Sloth.
He’s an iconic character among many- Corey Feldman’s “Mouth,” who could have taken over the film and thankfully was barred from doing so- Sean Astin’s sympathetic Mikey, the energetic Chunk, Anne Ramsey as the gravelly-voiced Mama Fratelli, and the nearly insulting Data- that makes The Goonies a memorable classic, even though it was obviously crafted by Spielberg and Chris Columbus to be just that, with a Cyndi Lauper song written specifically for it. I think my hating it back in ’84 was a result of pre-internet overhype, with Lauper and Captain Lou Albano’s videos and wrestling tie-ins making me sick of hearing about the Goonies even before I saw it. But watching it now, I wish I’d been a bit younger when it came out, so I could have enjoyed it. It’s deserving of its classic status, and seeing it on a big screen was awesome.