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RADIO FLYER

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 1, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Every now and then a very wrong-headed film comes along that is sold as family fare but proves to be anything but. Such is the case here with a truly tasteless effort that features, of all people, Tom Hanks! How this one earned a Blu-ray upgrade from Sony Home Entertainment is anyone’s guess. My review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 23, 1992.

A warning: I give away the ending in the first few paragraphs here, so if you plan to see the film you may want to avoid this review.

"Radio Flyer" is a most disturbing picture, not at all the feel-good "E.T." kind of movie that its TV ad spots seem to be promoting. In fact, this would be the last film to take young children to — especially children who might be troubled by divorce or abuse.

The story follows two young boys, one regularly beaten by his drunken stepfather and the other his slightly older brother who tries desperately to protect him.

After nearly two hours of alternating between domestic violence and soft-focus bonding between the brothers, the film suddenly shifts gears for its climax: To free the younger brother, they build a makeshift helicopter and he flies off to a safer haven.

     

Elijah Wood, left, Lorraine Bracco, Joseph Mazzello, 'Radio Flyer' (1992)

But what it really means is up for debate. Is the ending a metaphor for suicide — is he flying off to heaven? Or perhaps the message is that running away from home in times of stress will solve your problems.

Either way, it's something to steer children away from.

Narrated by Tom Hanks, who appears in the opening and closing moments, the story is told by Hanks' character to his own two children and shown to us in flashback.

Flight is the one thread that repeatedly comes up as most desirable above all other childish imaginings.

And, in fact, the ending brings to mind "The Boy Who Could Fly," which also made literal in its final moments a premise that had been metaphorical up to that point. "E.T." also comes to mind — everything is shot low, so adults tower over children and the camera acts as their viewpoint.

     

Further, the face of the abusive stepfather is never shown clearly — he is, in some ways, portrayed as a scary monster like those under the bed or in the closet. Except when he gets drunk, grabs that electrical cord and leaves welts on the young boy's back.

Directed by Richard Donner, who also made "The Goonies" for Steven Spielberg and whose heavy hand is responsible for the "Lethal Weapon" pictures, "Radio Flyer" attempts to be light and airy — and with another, less troublesome, script it might have been a nice exploration of childhood innocence.

But one has to wonder what Donner really had in mind with this picture. It doesn't say anything serious about child abuse. It doesn't search for any serious answers. Yet, the specific child-abuse scenes are certainly portrayed in a grim fashion, in contrast to the amusement of other moments.

And after watching some of the violent scenes the audience will find it hard to laugh when lighter or humorous moments come along.

"Radio Flyer" is an uncomfortable mix of real-life horror and whimsy — and it's certainly not a family film.