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Clifford (June 19/04)

You've got to wonder just who came up with the idea of casting Martin Short (who was in his 40s at the time) as a 10-year-old boy. It's a bizarre gimmick that works to a certain extent, though it does eventually become tiresome.

Short stars as the titular Clifford, a rambunctious and oddly calculating little kid who has no qualms about doing whatever is necessary to get what he wants (even if that means sabotaging a flight). It comes as no surprise, then, when his parents (played by Richard Kind and Jennifer Savidge) leave Clifford to stay with his uncle while they go on vacation. Said uncle, Martin (Charles Grodin) is trying to convince his girlfriend (Mary Steenburgen) that he loves children and decides to use Clifford to prove his point. But when Martin reneges on a promise to take Clifford to his beloved Dinosaur World, Clifford launches a campaign to systematically destroy Martin's life.

While Clifford is by no means hilarious, there are a few funnier-than-expected moments - mostly in the first half of the film - that keep things interesting for a while. Short delivers an oddly compelling performance, convincingly stepping into the shoes of this petulant 10-year-old. While it's impossible to ever forget the fact that this is Martin Short playing a young boy, the actor has a lot of fun with the role - though often steps further into the realm of over-the-top histrionics than we'd like. However, Short remains the master of the comedic reaction shot (check out the look on his face throughout the film whenever he's about to do something evil).

Grodin, of course, delivers exactly the sort of performance we've come to expect from him; that being the initially calm man who slowly-but-surely begins to break down as the film progresses. It's the sort of role he excels at, and there's certainly a real sense of chemistry between him and Short. It's their relationship that keeps the movie entertaining even through some of the more exaggerated sequences, particularly the film's conclusion - which follows Clifford and Martin's final showdown at Dinosaur World. Like the majority of movies aimed at kids, it's big and loud - though a more subdued finale would have been more appropriate.

Still, Clifford isn't nearly as bad as it's been made out to be. It's short, at least, and there's no denying that Short and Grodin are effective in their roles. And while the film does eventually wear out its welcome, this is essentially a textbook example of harmless fun.

out of

About the DVD: MGM Home Entertainment presents Clifford with an unfortunate full-screen transfer. The only extra to speak of is a theatrical trailer.