The plot, if you’ll recall, involves the lovely Chris Parker (Shue), who’s stood up by her dreamboat boyfriend (his little sister is sick, it’s a whole thing), so she takes a job babysitting Sara (Marie Brewton) and Brad (Keith Coogan, who’s an incoming high school freshman, but just hangs around because he has a crush on Chris). It’s supposed to be a cakewalk, but then Chris’s friend Brenda (Penelope Anne Miller) calls from a bus station in the city saying that she tried to run away from home and begs Chris to pick her up. Well, instead of calling the police of Brenda’s parents, Chris bundles Sara and Brad into the station wagon (along with Brad’s sleazy friend Daryl, played by Anthony Rapp), and head into Chicago, only to stumble into a car theft ring, learn the perils of teen prostitution, narrowly escape being shot, and getting menaced by the rival gangs from the “Beat It” video.
Now as you’re watching the movie, you might be struck by a few things you didn’t notice all those years ago when you saw it for the first time during its time on VHS back in the 80’s or, for you younger readers, when it hit DVD in 2000. You’ll notice a couple of places where the movie takes some strange, dark turns, where Columbus made some decisions that might cause you to wonder what the Harry Potter director was thinking at the time, plus, buried in all of that nostalgia for the movie are a couple of familiar faces in oddball roles that are hard to take seriously (you know, in a comedy) given their subsequent resumes.
7. Bradley Whitford, teen dreamboat
The West Wing actor plays Mike Toddwell, Chris’ two-timing boyfriend and sometime bully to Daryl. There’s nothing weird on the face of having the West Wing and Studio 60 vet in an early-ish role, except that the then 28-year-old was playing what I think was supposed to be a high school senior in the film. Now keep in mind, Shue was 24 at the time Adventures was released, but the first time we see Whitford, he looks more like a divorced young dad than a teen two-timer.
6. The Blues Fascists
Okay, I get the joke: scary black folks in the blues club won’t let the kids from the ’burbs go until they belt out a good, old-fashioned blues tune, but the setup and implications are kind of weird. Chris and the kids are running from a gang of car thieves who just want their copy of Playboy back (more on that later), and it’s likely that the kids will probably be shot (or worse) if they’re caught. But when the quartet makes their way to the blues club, they’re stopped and told “Nobody leaves without singing the blues.”
Okay, so the kids don’t take the time to explain that there are armed (possible) killers after them, nor do they ask to use a phone, but they do sing a terrible blues song about Chris’ romantic woes. And then they go.
Now, the next part is weird, because at this point, the three crooks make it to the club and as they’re about to go after the kids, they get the same “Nobody sings the blues” warning. So do they sing or did they shoot their way out or what? This movie has so many weirdly implied dead bodies in it, but that’s a whole other point entirely.
5. The ubiquitous Playboy subplot
Sorry for the lack of a picture, but if you’ve seen the movie, you know how important this issue of Playboy, featuring a model who looks astoundingly like Chris is to the whole movie. Daryl brings a copy along to Sara and Brad’s place, then he steals a copy from the car thieves because hey, Daryl might be a sex addict, then they come across another copy at a frat party, and there are even bus stands featuring Chris’ doppelganger around the city.
Was that a thing in the 80’s? Was Playboy the biggest, most widely-read publication during that decade? I mean, I don’t remember them being handed out in schools or anything or at my dentist’s office, but maybe it was a Chicago thing.
4. Private Pyle, buff heartthrob
Another case of a familiar actor showing up, this time with Full Metal Jacket/Men in Black actor Vince D’Onofrio rocking some sweet blonde locks as Dawson, owner of the garage where Chris gets her car repaired. It’s part of the whole subplot about Sara’s problematic obsession with Thor (like, unhealthy for her age obsessed), and the kid is convinced that the mechanic is the Marvel version of the God of Thunder.
Two curious things about this scene: I don’t think I’ve ever seen D’Onofrio looking this fit. I mean, he’s not a muscle-bound tough guy, but it’s easy to see how an obviously unhinged kid like Sara might make the mistake. But the other thing is that D’Onofrio is kind of playing the character like Private Pyle, kind of slow with short, measured thoughts, and kind of menacing.
See what I mean when you watch him say “You givin’ this to me?” It’s like a strange intersection of dangerous and dimwitted that’s an odd fit for a family film.
3. Chris Columbus cast his wife as a teen hooker
That happens. It happens and she comes on to Daryl. In and of itself the fact that there’s a 17-year-old teen runaway and prostitute in the film makes Adventures in Babysitting feel like maybe it’s crossing a line somewhere in terms of “family friendly” but that Columbus cast his wife, actress Monica Devereaux in the part, just adds an extra layer of ick.
And then there’s Daryl.
2. Daryl is kind of a weird creep, likely candidate for a future episode of SVU
Okay, movies like this back then need a leering creep to make our male teen lead seem more likeable, but in this case, it’s not clear how a sleazeball like Daryl became friends with the relatively decent Brad. The kid just makes all kinds of odd decisions like coming over to, I guess, stare at Chris, then stealing the porno from the gang (which… why?), to trying to hit on a drunk and nearly nodding out college co-ed.
Sure, we could chalk it up to age (he’s entering high school the next semester) but there’s just something off-putting and calculated about the character.
1. So, Joe Gipp’s going to die after the credits roll, right?
So in the finale, after the kids rescue Sara who’s been hanging off the side of the building being pursued by one of the gangsters, the kindly car thief Joe Gipp (Calvin Levels) asks them for the porno back, leaving mid-level boss Graydon (Ron Canada) hanging off the side of the building and then punching out boss, Mr. Anderson (John Davis Chandler). Then the kids have a wacky race to get back home before their parents.
And each and every character who isn’t Mr. Anderson or Graydon probably died within a day or two after the movie was over. The whole reason for chasing the kids around the city, being forced to sing the blues (or threaten an entire club full of blues fans) and generally being humiliated by a babysitter and three children was that the gangsters were trying to stay out of jail. That meant getting the Playboy back and also getting rid of any pesky witnesses.
So here’s what I think happened after the movie and it’s horrible.
See, the gangsters tracked the kids to Dawson’s garage, and presumably, Dawson would have at least kept their license plate number on file or something. Dawson’s a tough guy, and they probably would have had to mess him up a bit to get the info. But they would have gotten it. Then they would have tracked Chris back to her home in the suburbs, maybe even waited a bit to see if she made contact with the kids, and from there things are just awful.
Oh, and Joe Gipp: he totally left one of his bosses on the side of the building in mortal danger and punched the other one (who’s willing to murder children, mind you) in the face. I don’t think Joe was long for this world after Adventures in Babysitting ended, is what I’m saying.
So yeah, kids, don’t look too closely into those 80’s movies you’re always nostalgic about. Because sometimes, the implications are kind of terrifying and worse, you might just find yourself staring down Bradley Whitford in a pair of skinny jeans.
Adventures in Babysitting is available now on Blu-ray from Touchstone Entertainment.