If you thought we had just one bun in the oven for our lineup of Arnold Schwarzenegger comedies about birth and child-rearing — surprise! This topic is actually twins!
In our previous episode, we cooed over 1988’s Twins, in which Schwarzenegger popped his cherry as a humorous leading man and wowed us with his lack of vanity in getting laughs. In this episode, we carry our “Schwarzepreggers” topic to term, seeing if Arnold’s final two collaborations with Ivan Reitman are what we’re expecting — and if they still deliver.
In Kindergarten Cop (1990), Arnold stars as Detective John Kimble, a grim cop who learns that the only way to bust a drug dealer is to go undercover as a kindergarten teacher. (Don’t ask.) There’s plenty of deception, betrayal, yelling at children, gunplay on school grounds, and even a feral ferret — but are the laughs here, or absent? This bizarre blend of kiddie hijinks and deadly police drama just might have to stay after class.
Then, Arnold teams back up with Reitman and Danny DeVito for Junior (1994), a movie about how becoming a single parent affects a man’s love life, friendships, and career — because he has inseminated his new work crush’s secretly stolen ovum, implanted it in his own abdomen, and become pregnant himself. Junior is notorious for pushing high concept star vehicles to their extreme, subverting Schwarzenegger’s tough guy persona as he contends with morning sickness and kooky cravings instead of the usual cyborg nuclear attack. But nearly 30 years later, does Junior fill our bellies with laughter as easily as it fills Arnold’s belly with a viable infant? Grab some forceps, because the chuckles may not come so easily this time around!
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Following the somewhat surprising success of Twins, the fifth biggest domestic grosser of 1988, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s emergence as a comedy star was fully cemented in the 90s — alongside some of his career highlights as an action star, including Total Recall, Terminator 2, and True Lies.
Inevitably, these comedies were a mixed bag. Much like Twins, both Kindergarten Cop and Junior are as high concept as they come, trading on Schwarzenegger’s hulking physique to provide the laughs. This Austrian bodybuilder as a kindergarten teacher? Hilarious! As a pregnant guy? Even funnier! Much like Twins, the poster alone sells the premise. Casting anybody besides Arnold Schwarzenegger automatically makes each movie less funny.
Unfortunately, it seems Ivan Reitman and his writers relied a little too much on that built in appeal, as both scripts are pretty shaky. Kindergarten Cop is a weird hybrid of family friendly comedy and violent cop actioner, without doing nearly enough to satisfy fans of either. The convoluted setup never really makes sense, and only a couple scenes actually capitalize on the poster’s implied promise: “Big man overwhelmed by tiny children will make you laugh for two hours!” More time is spent on the lame drug dealer plot than the classroom hijinks, which is a shame, because Schwarzenegger is pretty good in the scenes where he gets to play drill sergeant to a bunch of rugrats.
Junior, on the other hand, is desperate enough for laughs that it dresses Schwarzenegger in drag for the third act of the film — as if Arnold as a pregnant man alone is somehow not silly enough. Couple that with Emma Thompson’s unfortunate appearance as a klutzy, kooky scientist, and it’s clear that Junior has no insight into women’s minds or their bodies. Junior could probably be a lot worse, but it’s almost shocking how little of the film finds any humor within such an absurd premise. The main issue is the lack of personality the script withholds from Schwarzenegger. His character is similar to the meathead smarty-pants he played in Twins, minus the charm and sense of humor.
It’s not Schwarzenegger’s fault these comedies are so lackluster — with better scripts, either might have worked. Schwarzenegger’s final comedy, 1996’s Jingle All The Way, was a financial success but another critical failure; his turn as Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin the following year relied more on jokes than brawn, but his lines were abysmal. Schwarzenegger never really recaptured the magic of Twins as a comedian. Writers never quite knew what to do with him, lazily relying on his existing star persona rather than conceiving real comic characters for him to play. Following Twins, Schwarzenegger’s humor is best displayed in the comedic moments of his “serious” films. True Lies is almost as much a comedy as it is an action thriller, and few stars have ever delivered more memorable one-liners in an action flick than Schwarzenegger in T2. Ultimately, I’d have to say that Schwarzenegger’s best partner as a comedian is not Ivan Reitman, or even Danny DeVito — it’s James Cameron.