(review contains spoilers)
Harry Potter director Chris Columbus made his directorial debut with Adventures in Babysitting (1987). It is a fun, highly entertaining comedy about the misadventures of a high school senior who gets sidetracked into a rough urban world of gangsters and assorted lowlifes while on a babysitting job. This was Elisabeth Shue's first starring role, and she didn't disappoint.
Adventures in Babysitting is sort of Risky Business lite. Both of the films' protagonists are naive, sheltered Chicago suburbanites who get a crash course in the real world and learn some important life lessons along the way. However, the PG13-rated Adventures in Babysitting is much tamer than the R-rated Risky Business. The opening of the film even pays homage to the iconic Tom Cruise underwear scene from Risky Business. But instead of Bob Seger's gritty "Old Time Rock and Roll," Shue's character gets her groove on to the Crystals' hit "Then He Kissed Me." It's a really great way to open the film. You've got Phil Spector's famous Wall of Sound, the sweet voices of the Crystals, and a joyful Shue dancing around while she gets ready for her big date. It nicely sets the film's fun, playful tone.
A Babysitting Job Goes Awry
Attractive suburban high school senior Chris Parker (Shue) takes a babysitting job after her jerk of a boyfriend cancels on their date at the last minute. The little girl that she's hired to babysit is a spunky eight-year-old named Sara Anderson (Maia Brewton), who's a huge fan of the Marvel Comics superhero Thor. Sara roller-skates around the house wearing a winged Thor helmet, and posters of the hammer-wielding Norse god adorn her bedroom walls. Sara's older brother Brad (Keith Coogan) is a gawky15- year-old who has a mega crush on Chris.
While babysitting Sara, Chris gets an urgent phone call from her best friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller). Brenda ran away from home due to her contentious relationship with her stepmother, but lost her nerve once she got a peek at some of the derelicts, weirdos and perverts who hang out at the seedy bus station in downtown Chicago. Brenda doesn't have any money for cab fare to get home and wants Chris to come pick her up. So Chris takes along Sara, Brad and his obnoxious best friend Daryl Coppersmith (Anthony Rapp) to get Brenda. The rescue mission is thrown way off course after Chris' car gets a flat tire on the expressway. In their peril-filled journey through the rough streets of downtown Chicago, they encounter a car thief, gangbangers, a young prostitute and assorted mobster types.
Elisabeth Shue really shines in this film, bringing a natural charm to her role of Chris. In addition to her good looks, she has a relatable appeal that connects with the audience. However, there is one problem, and it doesn't have anything to do with her acting abilities. Shue does not look like a 17-year-old high school student. The then 23-year-old actress seems much older than cast member Keith Coogan, whom she's only supposed to be two years his senior. It's not a big problem, but it does make you do a double take when it's mentioned that the two attend the same high school.
Shue receives strong support from her fellow cast members. The standout among the supporting cast is Maia Brewton as Sara. The young actress has great comedic timing and steals a lot of scenes in her role as the scrappy eight-year-old Thor devotee. And Penelope Ann Miller is hilarious as Shue's frantic best friend Brenda. Also, Calvin Levels is impressive as Joe Gipp, the charming car thief with a heart of gold. Rapp and Coogan are also quite good in their respective roles.
In addition, the late character actor John Davis Chandler is very scary as hardened mobster Bleak. With his raspy sandpaper voice and cold-as-death glare, Bleak is one guy you don't want to mess with. And keep an eye out for a very svelte Vincent D'Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket and Law & Order: Criminal Intent) as a surly mechanic who Sara thinks is Thor in his secret identity.
Columbus does a good job in his first outing in the director’s chair. He moves the film along at a nice, crisp pace and draws strong performances from his young cast. Columbus went on to a hugely successful career as a filmmaker with five massive blockbusters to his credit: Mrs. Doubtfire; Home Alone; Home Alone 2: Lost in New York; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The screenplay for Adventures in Babysitting was penned by writer/producer David Simkins.
Additionally, the film boasts a killer soundtrack. It’s filled with stellar blues, R&B and rock tracks. Some of the artists represented on the soundtrack include Percy Sledge, the Rolling Stones, Edwin Starr, Junior Walker, Iggy Pop, Muddy Waters and Sam Cooke. And the late legendary bluesman Albert Collins has a cameo in the film. The kids duck into his blues club while fleeing from mobsters. He tells them, “Nobody gets out of here without singing the blues.” The highlight of the film is the scene with Collins and the kids performing “Babysitting Blues.”
Columbus delivers the goods with Adventures in Babysitting. It’s everything a film like this should be. It has a charismatic and extremely likable protagonist; it’s very funny, has lots of excitement and a really strong group of supporting players. And as an added bonus, the film has an amazing soundtrack. What more could you ask for?