Picks and Pans Review: Dennis the Menace

updated 07/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Walter Matthau, Joan Plowright, Mason Gamble, Christopher Lloyd

This summer, audiences can choose between the Last Action Hero and the smallest action hero. The latter is that well-known towheaded terror, Dennis (played winningly by Gamble, 7). As in Hank Ketcham's 41-year-old comic strip, and on the TV series (which ran on CBS from 1959 to 1963), Dennis is the bane of baby-sitters—the smart ones wear helmets when hired to watch him. He's also the nemesis of the neighborhood, particularly of the curmudgeonly Mr. Wilson (the mugging Matthau). In the course of Dennis the Menace, which plays like an attenuated '50s sitcom episode, Gamble slingshots an aspirin down Matthau's throat, accidentally sends some of his false teeth down the drain and, with childish naïveté, replaces his nose drops with plaque remover and the plaque remover with toilet-bowl cleaner. But certainly, while Gamble is mischievous, he means absolutely no malice, a fact not lost on kindly Mrs. Wilson (Plowright in a typically persuasive performance, if an atypical role). When Dennis's parents (Lea Thompson and Robert Stanton) are called out of town on business, Plowright, over Matthau's vigorous protests, volunteers to take Gamble in, with predictably disastrous results. The kid ruins amateur horticulturist Matthau's moment of triumph at a garden party and has a run-in with a robber (Lloyd). Producer-writer John Hughes brings nothing fresh to the mix, instead borrowing elements from his own Home Alone and from such diverse sources as "The Ransom of Red Chief" and Blazing Saddles, after a while, even children will find the gags repetitive. (PG)

From Our Partners