Twenty years old and still well worth a Truffle Shuffle...
Heeeey yooooooou guuuuuuuys!. Forget Nic Cage running around the States like a blue-arsed fly squinting at dollar bills through stupidly coloured goggles and muttering on about the Knights Templar. For those of us beyond a certain age adventure has a more unusual face. The face of a man tortured by his parents and brothers from birth. A man who'd give John Merrick a run for his money in the bringing up breakfast stakes. A man called Sloth. Ugly as sin he might have been, but it's a credit to the spirit of The Goonies and the way in which those of us over a certain age took it to our hearts that he's still the most endearing character in action movie history. But I digress. When he's not busy retrofitting Star Wars or burning bundles of hundred dollar bills to heat his ranch, George Lucas occasionally surfaces to act as producer, and despite the general papness of his own movies, this is a role he seems much better suited to. Roping in Richard Donner for directorial duties, the bearded one brought us one of the finest family action movies of the eighties in the shape of The Goonies, a kiddie-friendly adventure romp of the kind they truly just don't make any more, which is to say not only is it exciting but it also manages to be smart at the same time.
Charting the (mis)adventures of a group of school friends whose housing scheme is about to be levelled to make way for a new golf course, The Goonies centres on their search for a mythical local treasure dating back hundreds of years to a time when the coastline was awash with pirates and the stench of scurvy. One such pirate, One-Eyed Willie, was rumoured to have hidden his ship from a British armada in a secret cave, having robbed the Empire of a vast ammount of gold and jewels. To this day the treasure remains undiscovered, and the young tearaways reckon their best hope of saving their home is to find the haul so they can buy the land themselves and stop the developers. As you do. As plots go it's hardly Lawrence Of Arabia, but as an efficient front-end to an hour and a quarter of action extravaganza it just about cuts the mustard.
Of course a simple hunt for treasure through a fiendishly booby-trapped system of abandoned cave complexes just isn't enough, so enter the Fratellis; a family of low-down dirty criminal scumbag Italians intent on unearthing the treasure for themselves and callous enough to bump off our young protagonists if it helps their cause. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is your setup. True though it may be that The Goonies is far form Oscar material, to expect such merit from an adventure film aimed at families would be to miss the point entirely, for here we find ourselves thoroughly in the land of escapism and those of you who can't handle the requisite suspension of disbelief would be well advised to get out of the cobweb-covered kitchen.
To label The Goonies as Indiana Jones for kids would probably be a dis-service to both, even though it's probably the most convenient comparison to make, for the heart of this movie isn't necessarily the (albeit top-flight) action and adventure, but rather the dynamic between a group of friends it's almost impossible not to like. Of course all the pre-set stereotypes are present and correct; leader of the group Mikey (Sean Astin) is the sensible one, Brandon (Josh Brolin) is the overbearing older brother, Chunk (Jeff Cohen) is the fat kid with a penchant for hyperbole, Data (Ke Huy Quan) is the "token ethnic kid" who also here acts as a master inventor, and 80's favourite Corey Feldman rounds out the team as Mouth, the one who loves the sound of his own voice a little too much.
So far so template, but fortunately The Goonies is raised above Saturday matinee mdeiocrity by a number of factors. Primarily it's the sheer enthusiasm of the young ensemble cast and resultant emotional inertia that sustain the near two hour running time and make it feel more like ninety minutes. Even the characters who we'd probably loathe in real life (primarily Feldman's Mouth) somehow manage to be sufficiently endearing that we do actually give a damn about wether or not these kids manage to save their homes. Twenty years and God only knows how many viewings later, and it's still almost impossible not to laugh along with Mouth as he forces Chunk to perform the "Truffle Shuffle". Perhaps it's because on the outside these kids seem so ordinary, yet on the inside so extraordinary that we make the connection, or maybe it's just the obvious cameraderie between them that makes the resultant riffing so pleasant to behold. Either way I certainly don't care; it works, and that's all there is to it.
Of course, having Steven Spielberg make a rare appearance alongside Chris Columbus on writing duties probably helps too, as the Other Bearded One undoubtedly has an eye not just for the adventures every teenager dreams about, but the duo also manage to invest just the right proportion of over-their-heads humour that will leave most youngsters wondering just what it is mum and dad are laughing about too. The dialogue in itself is almost perfection, capturing that "the things kids say!" factor as well as being as believable as it possibly can be given the context of fourteen year-olds running around an elaborate network of booby-trapped caves hunting for treasure.
Credit where it's due also to Richard Donner who directs his little socks off and produces results it's hard to imagine Spielberg or Lucas being able to better themselves. In fact so many scenes prove Spielberg-esque (most notably the booby traps and those fantastic water slides) that one wonders wether The 'Berg handed Donner comprehensive camera notes as well as the script. Not to take anything away from the man though, as this is arguably his best movie as director alongside the original Lethal Weapon. Donner clearly appreciates the children being the main thrust of the movie, and as compelling as the Fratelli family are in small doses the director wisely keeps it that way, introducing them only at key moments where the sense of danger needs a little pepping up.
But what of the most charming aspect of all; the one thing absolutely everybody remembers from The Goonies and whose resultant dialogue continues to crop up in pubs across the land to this day? "I love you, Chunk!". God bless Sloth and the superb (it's far too embarassing for a man my age to use the term "heart-warming") dynamic betwixt the big man and podgy little Chunk. In a movie that's all heart perhaps the most astounding achievement is the thoroughly rewarding yet never fuzzy relationship between a fat little oik and a mentally handicapped disfigured giant of a man. Somehow avoiding the cheese factor, a relationship that starts with a shared love of chocolate melts the heart likewise and, dare I say it, threatens to bring a lump to the throat even to this day. All that young humanity amidst a world of adult greed...oh woe is me, it's enough to make a man crack.
So then, the key question is this: is The Goonies the best kid's adventure movie of it's time? No. If you classify the Indiana Jones movies as more adult-oriented (which, given the surprising level of violence is probably a fair assertion) then The Goonies is the best kid's adventure flick of any time. Let's face it; for all the technical jiggery-pokery that today's movies allow the likes of the Spy Kids franchise still lacks soul, and Disney can't draw (or render) a frame without tacking a heavy moral message on the arse end. The Goonies is all about the fun, but also manages to be intelligent and rewarding at the same time. Now with that kind of investment from Hollywood for once it'd be remiss of us all not to keep returning to this little gem for the next 20 years.
Mmmmmf nnnn grrrrrgle fnnnnnf zzzzzmmmmmmmmmnininnnnn 5 out of 5 Fnnngle Glips
Josh Brolin (Brandon 'Brand' Walsh)
Jeff Cohen (Lawrence 'Chunk' Cohen)
Corey Feldman (Clark 'Mouth' Devereaux)
Kerri Green (Andrea 'Andy' Carmichael)
Martha Plimpton (Stefanie 'Stef' Steinbrenner)
Ke Huy Quan (Richard 'Data' Wang)
John Matuszak (Lotney 'Sloth' Fratelli)
Robert Davi (Jake Fratelli)
Joe Pantoliano (Francis Fratelli)
Anne Ramsey (Mama Fratelli)