In this totally enjoyable film, Schwarzenegger is witty, charming, subtle, tough and most impressive—a Cary Grant with pecs.
Not such big pecs anymore either. Arn has slimmed down and debulged so that he hardly looks any bigger than a water buffalo. And director Ivan (Ghostbusters) Reitman brings out just the right level of playfulness in Schwarzenegger. Together they bring off some very difficult comedy—with a fearsome man scaring his little pupils into line yet never seeming to be mean.
The children themselves are pure joy, sometimes obviously acting, sometimes all unself-conscious and deftly guided by Reitman (who, with editors Sheldon Kahn and Wendy Greene Bricmont, keeps their bits of dialogue to just the right length).
Schwarzenegger plays a Los Angeles cop working in Oregon, chasing a woman who has stolen a fortune from a crooked ex-husband. When his partner, Pamela Reed, gets sick as she's about to take an undercover job as a teacher, Arnold fills in and gets overrun, until he lays down the law.
There's mystery too: Nobody knows what the woman looks like, so the two cops must sort out suspects including Miller, a teacher at Schwarzenegger's school, and Cathy Moriarty, a pupil's mother, among others.
There were three writers—collaborators Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod (Twins) and newcomer Murray Salem. They weave in a number of subplots involving Reed's compulsive eating, child abuse and Carroll Baker's Ma Barker-like relationship with Richard Tyson, the gangster whose ex-wife is the mystery woman.
Linda Hunt is crafty as ever as an officious principal. Reed makes the most of her straight-woman role. Even such minor characters as Tom Kurlander—a crook who doesn't last long—add to the movie.
Schwarzenegger and the kids provide the zip though. Everyone can pick a favorite of the class's 30 or so pupils, played by children 4 to 7. Here's a vote for Sarah Rose Karr as a girl who's either sly on the verge of sweetness or the other way around.
The opening L.A.-set scenes contain violence the movie didn't need. But most of the time a spirit of fun dominates. When Schwarzenegger leads his class on a march and teaches them a cadence count—"Reading, writing, 'rithmetic/ Too much homework makes me sick"—there's only one word for it: irresistible. (PG-13)