The litmus test for whether you’ll like this year’s reimagining of Tom Holland’s 1988 film “Child’s Play” and its murderous doll-star Chucky is a simple one: man or machine. In the original film, a human possessed Chucky; now, Chucky’s a robot. Personally, I’ll take a soul over sensors any day.
For those new to “Child’s Play’s” story, the 1988 version featured a toddler-sized toy doll (whose speech, eye and mouth movements were similar to the popular ‘80’s toy Teddy Ruxpin) that comes to life and kills people. How it comes to life is through voodoo practiced by Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), a killer shot by police in a toy store. Before Lee dies, he transfers his soul into one of the popular dolls through black magic. When Lee’s doll winds up in the hands of 6 year-old Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), the crystalline blue-eyed toy cheerfully greets him as Chucky. While Lee continues killing in doll form, no one knows but Andy, who is soon framed for Chucky’s murders because no one believes Andy when he says Chucky’s alive. Andy’s mother (Catherine Hicks) begins to investigate and, when she gets too close, Chucky angrily comes to life in her hands and a foul-mouthed, knife-wielding horror movie icon was born.
This year’s “Child’s Play” uses the same toddler-sized doll but imagines it housed something similar to Alexa that can control all of your Alexa-enabled devices, like your home’s thermostat, or has the ability to call you an Uber. These smart-dolls link to a parent company named Kaslan. As a final vengeful act before termination, a disgruntled Kaslan employee assembles a doll but fails to activate speech and violence inhibitors within the doll before it’s sent from the warehouse (no joke, the movie cheesily labels these inhibitors). The rogue doll winds up in the hands of 13 year-old Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) and, despite Andy trying to name him, stubbornly greets him as Chucky. Chucky makes it clear he’s not like the other dolls: when he hears Andy and his friends curse, Chucky mimics the profanity. As Chucky begins to process knowledge, he sees Andy and his friends delight in watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” and when the Barclays’ cat scratches Andy and draws blood, Chucky’s crystalline blue eyes turn blood red themselves. Assuming the role of Andy’s protector, we soon learn when Chucky’s blue eyes turn red, Chucky wants something dead.
Having Chucky’s brain make the mistake of thinking killing is fun or being able to control other technology for evil ends are good ideas, but ultimately this computerized Chucky’s not the rage-fueled, maniacally laughing psychopath that Dourif so memorably created in the first film. Mark Hamill voices the new Chucky with a calm akin to HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey” and, while I understand Hamill’s voice choice to be as cold as a machine, it’s not the volatile Chucky we’ve come to love. Though some fun’s gained in Chucky’s new ability to control technology to commit crime, just watching an animated doll energetically scamper around to slaughter feels more satisfying. Lacking the suspense and emotion of the original, the new “Child’s Play” has its heart in the right place, but it’s a cold computer’s heart. I like my homicidal maniacs to be a little more human.