Thursday, October 18, 2012

Out On a Limb: "Treehouse Hostage" (1999)

The late Jim Varney stars in this embarrassing kids' story that will appeal only to the ten year old boy in your life.

Varney is Carl Banks, a counterfeitor who escapes from prison. Chased by crooked cops, he ends up in a giant treehouse in a suburban backyard. The treehouse, which rivals my first apartment in size, belongs to Timmy (Joey Zimmerman), a young Ferris Bueller-type. Timmy is being pressured by his evil principal (Richard Kline, light years from "Three's Company) to get a current events project together or go to summer school.

Timmy and his best friends, the gassy Buddy (Kristopher Kachurak) and the cute and nerdy Stevie (Todd Bosely) decide to make Carl their project. Timmy's parents (a slumming Mark Moses and a kind of hot Debby "You Light Up My Life" Boone) don't believe Timmy's wild stories anyway, so why not?

What follows is the same type of story you have seen on everything from "Home Alone" to any live action Nickelodeon television series. Carl turns out not to be such a bad guy, the school principal is actually a bigger villain than first thought, and all of the adults are complete morons who are routinely outsmarted by these routine kids. The treehouse apparently has running electricity, since there is a refrigerator, computer, and elaborate booby traps that only adult screenwriters could come up with.

Writing this off as harmless drivel would be a mistake. I have not seen this many instances of passing gas, picking noses, and spitting phlegm since...well, elementary school. This movie would amuse ten year boys, and no one else. Younger children might emulate the behavior, and older kids will be bored out of their skulls. The script goes for the easy, gross laugh, the direction is average, and the music is a cacophony of loud and unsubtle.

Poor Jim Varney. Once he was trapped in his Ernest character, he was never able to escape typecasting before dying an early death from lung cancer. Here, he looks sad and unhealthy, and I felt bad for him all the way through- from his one good scene talking about being a fireman to having to wear drag to fool a gardener at Timmy's house.

In North Dakota, there is a crop disease called Leafy Spurge. I do not know what it exactly means, but it seems like an adequate criticism for this film. "Treehouse Hostage" is leafy spurge. (*) out of five stars.