D.A.R.Y.L. *** UK / USA 1985 Dir: Simon Wincer. 99 mins
Despite a cloyingly slushy Marvin Hamlisch and a godawful theme song by Teddy Pendergrass that farts in the general direction of the ending, this is an appealing Amblin-era family sci-fi thriller. After an impressive opening mountaintop helicopter-car chase, an elderly couple discover the disarmingly polite nine-year-old Daryl (the kid from THE NEVERENDING STORY, Barret Oliver) suffering from amnesia and stranded in the woods. Childless couple Michael McKean and Mary Beth Hurt at last get the foster kid they have wanted for so long, and Daryl turns out to be a baseball whiz, a top scorer on Atari game “Pole Position” and a genius able to massively enhance account balances at ATM’s with a single touch. He also has an ability similar to the Antichrist in DAMIEN: OMEN II to make a mean, twitchy teacher look small and inferior in Maths class by using his prodigious knowledge. There is, of course, a catch and his real “parents” want him back.
This fun picture juggles genres skilfully in pursuit of good old-fashioned escapist entertainment, complete with Danny Corkhill stealing his scenes as Turtle, one of those precocious 80’s kids who has learned words like “hooker” and useful adolescent phrases like “He’s practically raping her!” The script is a few rewrites away from being a full-blown paedophobic horror film, echoing the Stephen King-era of mentally gifted, potentially dangerous kids like Charlie in FIRESTARTER and depicting Daryl’s experiences of dehumanising medical tests in the fashion of the most quietly harrowing scenes in the first half of THE EXORCIST. DARYL fulfils youthful fantasies in scenes of its juvenile hero easily besting an array of anonymous adult antagonists, flying military planes and getting a front seat in a big freeway chase, but there’s an underlying grimness to the eagerness of the government figures keen to (literally) take the kid to the scrapyard even though he has started to feel human emotions beyond his original programming. It inevitably nods to E.T. and other more popular films of its period but boasts effective use of contemporary special effects and a genuinely sympathetic performance by Oliver.
Review by Steven West