Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

[Automatonophobia] Making Contact AKA Joey (1985)

Making Contact AKA Joey - Theatrical Poster
Theatrical Poster
After the death of his father, young Joey discovers the newfound ability of telekinesis, and furthermore, an unlikely means of communicating with his deceased daddy—via a glowing red toy telephone. A short time later, Joey discovers a creepy ventriloquist dummy in an abandoned house, but the dummy is no mere plaything. It is housing an evil entity with powers similar to, but superior to, Joey's own. Joey has to fend off the evil dummy's increasingly dark magic, as well as the bullying of his peers, in order to save himself, his family, and the entire neighborhood from destruction.

This is a decidedly confusing film, which throws so many elements into a cinematic blender that there was really no hope for it to make a ton of sense. A son talking to his dead father could have been an entire movie (FREQUENCY). A youngster developing telekinetic abilities could have been an entire movie (CARRIE). A boy being pursued by a doll instilled with life could have been an entire movie (CHILD'S PLAY). But when you throw them all together, with nary a plot thread to connect them, you wind up with something a little less than coherent.

Viewing this as a child, it might not have mattered so much. There would have been an awful lot onscreen to distract you from the fact that one thing seldom, if ever, lead to another in a logical way—especially if you were an American child. Nearly every scene is absolutely littered with pop cultural Americana. Mickey Mouse, Sesame Street, and so many Star Wars toys that you would think this was produced in cooperation with George Lucas himself. Children of the era were likely too busy 'oohing' and 'ahhing' to pay much attention to the finer points. Viewed through adult eyes, though, it really starts to fall apart at the seams.

One of the most bewildering aspects of the whole movie was just how, exactly, Joey's toy robot Charlie
Making Contact AKA Joey - Joey's Robot Pal, Charlie
Joey's Robot Pal, Charlie
came to life. Assuming that Joey's latent telekinetic ability came about because of the emotional distress brought on by his father's death (and I am only assuming here, because the cause of this new ability is never even hinted at), I can understand Joey using it to make his toy spaceships fly and that sort of thing. But the robot (who appears to be an adorable R2D2 knockoff) operates with its own intelligence, to the point where it becomes almost like a pet—indeed, there is even one scene that depicts the boy taking his dog and his robot out for a walk! Unfortunately, Charlie's stay is all too brief, shot down in his prime by the local bullies. Had he stuck around long enough for the audience to develop any sort of emotional attachment to him, this might have been an emotionally impactful scene. Instead, what could have been a major plot point turns out to be just another throwaway occurrence without reason or explanation.

Making Contact AKA Joey - Creepy Ol' Fletcher
Creepy Ol' Fletcher
The villainous dummy Fletcher is only slightly more grotesque than your average ventriloquist's partner. However, he growls an awful lot and shoots psychic lightning beams from his eyes, which elevates him to a whole new level. He never wields an actual weapon, per se, but he does use his telekinesis to hurl knives about.

Much as I would have liked to see Fletcher slicing and dicing his way through the running time, I guess the filmmakers thought that would be too intense for younger viewers. It's an odd mix they achieve here, though, equal parts horror and flights-of-fancy. It goes from the utterly silly (a killer, sentient hamburger) to the overwhelmingly dark (Joey is, spoiler alert, pronounced dead). This imbalance is, to say the least, unsettling...and not in a good way.

Tracing the lineage of this particular film is a bit difficult, but I will attempt it: It takes place in America, used an American cast, and was originally shot in English, but only a few small parts were shot in America. It's actually a German film, though it tries exceedingly hard to make you think otherwise. Aside from all the American pop cultural references already mentioned, Krispy Kreme donut shops are shown in the background numerous times, and there is even a scene shoehorned in where children sing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee".

Aside from the confused heritage, there are also at least two cuts of the film. There is the American cut,
Making Contact AKA Joey - The Red Dead Phone
The Red Dead Phone
which utilizes an English-language track; and the German cut, which is dubbed into German (but now available with English subtitles); The American cut is shorter, some scenes are edited differently or played in a different order all together, and an alternate musical score was used, so they are, in some aspects, drastically different films.

Despite all of the drawbacks, this family-oriented fantasy from Roland Emmerich, the director of INDEPENDENCE DAY has a peculiar magic all its own, and if it made some effort of being cohesive, it might have ranked with such fare as THE GOONIES, EXPLORERS, or E.T.: THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL. As it stands, a fun but headscratching mess, it is strictly second-tier material, like 1988’S MAC AND ME.


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