"Just this morning, I came upon a seven-year-old. He's smart as a tack, a little rambunctious, but, weren't we all at that age?"
—Igor Peabody introducing the Healys to Junior for the first time.
Problem Child is a 1990 comedy film directed by Dennis Dugan and starring John Ritter. It surrounds the destructive antics of a seven-year-old boy known only as Junior, who has been shuffled from foster home to foster home because he has the social skills of a Tasmanian Devil. He ultimately lands in the hapless custody of Ben Healy’s family, and Hilarity Ensues.This movie received overwhelmingly negative reviews during its theatrical release, and is Dennis Dugan's second worst reviewed film on Rotten Tomatoes, second only to Jack and Jill, but has since received cult status on home video. It was followed by two sequels, Problem Child 2 in 1991, and Problem Child 3: Junior in Love in 1995.There was also an animated television series based on the movies. Its page is here.
Tropes associated with these movies:
Bad To The Bone: Junior’s leitmotif is none other than George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone".
In the second film, we got LaWanda (at least for Junior), and Trixie (in general).
California Doubling: Averted with all three films in a way. The first film was set in the fictional Cold River, and the next two films were set in the fictional Mortville. The first film was filmed in Texas, the second film was filmed in Florida (including the then-newly opened Universal Studios Florida), and the third film was filmed in Los Angeles.
Only Sane Man: Ben Healy. Except when Junior wrecks his car, and Bow-Tie Killer shows up at their house, and takes his wife and Junior. He has totally lost it then up until he finds an item that causes him to come back to his senses.
Real-Life Relative: John Ritter’s real-life wife played Ben Healy’s wife in the first movie and his love interest in the second movie.
Re Cut: Both 1 and 2 aired on television, edited for content, but with newly-added scenes to make up for what was cut. You can watch them here and here.
Shout-Out: Below is a list of examples from all three movies
During the 3rd film, when Murph (Eric Edwards) introduces Junior to his sister Bertha (played by Edwards in drag), Junior says "Who let her out of Jurassic Park?" Both Jurassic Park and Problem Child franchises were Universal Pictures releases.
Also during the 3rd film, Dr. Peabody wears a Watchmen button on his suit.
Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Gilbert Gottfried's character, Mr. Peabody, who was an adoption agent in the first film, a principal in the second (and cartoon) and a dentist in the third.
You Look Familiar: Ben Healy's bitchy wife in Problem Child and his sweet-natured love interest in Problem Child 2 are played by the same actress. Oddly, no-one points out the resemblance. Amy Yasbeck, the actress in question was John Ritter’s real-life wife at the time.
All Just a Dream: The TV version adds a scene during Martin's ink blot test, in which he hallucinates, and dreams about being set to the electric chair, and escaping from it in the process, but not before sending the Warden to it.
Batter Up: Junior's dad gives him the tip of "holding onto the bat" after two strikes. After hitting the ball, he holds onto the bat while making his way to the bases and uses it to beat up anyone in his way.
I Have a Family: Mayor Healy and Principal Peabody failed to keep their end of a bargain with mobsters. Healy played straight with the trope by stating he had a family. Peabody, on the other hand, said he didn't have one but could get one.
Junior: [After breaking several milk bottles] I love the smell of spilled milk in the morning. It smells like victory. note This scene was exclusive to TV versions.
Inkblot Test: The prison psychiatrist is giving a Rorschach test to the Bow Tie Killer (Martin Beck), only the "inkblots" are actually bloodstains left by his victims. While the warden is in the room he lies, saying he sees things like butterflies and bunnies hopping across fields. This enrages the warden, and the psychiatrist forces him to leave. Once the warden leaves, the psychiatrist continues the test, and the Bow Tie Killer says he sees blood, and kills the psychiatrist, puts on his clothes and drives out of prison. Why no one was watching what was going on from behind a two-way mirror is anyone's guess.
Is This Thing On?: Shortly before the climax, Ben asks his Jerkass father Big Ben for money to pay the ransom of his kidnapped wife and son while the former is preparing for his Mayor campaign speech. When he turns him down, Ben then asks "Hey dad! Why don't you tell all the voters what you really plan on doing with this town!" and surreptitiously turns on the camera:
Big Ben: I don't give a rat's ass for the voters! All I care about is the power and the power that'll give me the money. That's why I'm a success and you're not! America for the Americans. If you believe that nonsense, you're even stupider than I thought! I'd sell my soul to the Japanese if they made me an offer. And as for you, don't come suckering around me if you want something! The only thing you'll get from me is this! (moons the camera)
Leitmotif: The Bow Tie Killer has a harmonica tune playing whenever he comes on-screen.
Mooning: Big Ben does this without realizing that the camera is on.
Jerkass: Big Ben Healy. The same with Flo. The same with many children, especially towards Junior. Junior himself is a quite a bit of one in his own way.
Taking the Bullet: Ben does this for Junior at the climax when the Bow-Tie Killer shoots at him.
You Can Keep Her: When the Bow Tie Killer kidnaps Flo and Junior, Ben is initially overjoyed that they are gone. However after seeing a drawing Junior made of him, he realizes Junior loves him and goes out to rescue him. Flo's not so lucky, though.
Problem Child 2
Bad Date: Junior has a bit of a problem adjusting to his dad trying to get him a new mom, and as a result sabotages two of his dates. This sets up the Cassandra Truth situation later in the movie where Junior is trying to get his dad not to marry LaWanda Dumore, a Rich BitchChild Hater who has it in for him.
Butt Monkey: Primarily LaWanda. But all other Ben's dates take the brunt as well. Mr. Peabody is in several scenes. The School Teacher in one scene, not to mention Junior himself in one scene when he is outsmarted and hosed by Trixie. Ben Healy is in one scene. Big Ben Healy is in one to several scenes as well. Practically anyone under Junior's sly revengeful stunts.
The Can Kicked Him: Junior throws dynamite down a toilet, causing all the toilets to explode, including one his teacher is using. The teacher wears a diaper for the rest of the film.
Child Hater: LaWanda Dumore. Cemented when she threatens to send Junior to boarding school in Baghdad (where there was a goddamn war on at the time the film was released!), out-and-out stated during the climax.
Dog Food Diet: Debbie Claukinski's ex-husband Voytek is in his rathole apartment eating Chow Down when Junior calls. Chow Down, which comes in Beef, Chicken, and Horse and made Nippy take a dump three times his size.
Flipping the Bird: Junior is driving his dad home, and an unseen driver cuts him off. The kid knows how to make use of "the highway salute".
Food Fight: Ticked off when Junior flicks an olive into the cleavage of Mr. Peabody's date at the restaurant.
This continues the running theme of the first movie of him falling for less-than-savory women.
I Ate WHAT?: When Junior is asked by two snotty twin girls to refill a pitcher of lemonade, he does so with urine. The twins' father, Aron Burger takes a drink from it.
Jar Potty: Junior takes a whiz in order to refill a pitcher of lemonade for a pair of snobbish twin sisters that he wants to get back at. The twins' father, Aron Burger is the one who ends up taking a sample of Junior's little concoction.
Jerkass: LaWanda. Including Big Ben Healy. Many of the kids are as well, especially towards Junior. Junior himself is a quite a bit of one in his own way.
Loud Gulp: Ben Healy gives one of these when asking Nurse Annie on a date out of nervousness.
Magic Plastic Surgery: Junior tried to avert the wedding of his father and LaWanda by having her get plastic surgery to get the world's biggest nose on the day of the wedding. LaWanda woke up and discovered her new nose. Then, just a few hours later, she reappeared with her original nose and she said that she had some "last-minute double-overtime plastic surgery". So, she had two surgeries on the same body part in the same day with no scars.
Mustache Vandalism: Junior, a little jealous of the attention his adoptive father is giving Annie Young, decides to deface her picture in this way. He's found by Trixie, her daughter who is equal to him in being bad, who sternly warns him "I wouldn't do that if I were you." When Junior doesn't listen, Trixie floors him, says "Next time, you'll listen to me," and then draws a mustache on him with his own marker.
Off to Boarding School: "Whether you like it or not, I am going to marry your daddy. And when I do, you will be on the first plane to boarding school — in Baghdad!"
Oh Crap: Junior when he can't unfreeze Big Ben's dog. Nippy only gets unfrozen with the introduction of a new dog food called "Chow Down."
You Must Be This Tall To Ride: During the fair scene, Junior tries to get on the Crazy Dance ride, but is told that he has to be as tall as the tentacle, which he just barely isn't ("But it's only a millimeter!").
To add insult to injury, Trixie, who's much shorter then him, manages to get in by putting on platform shoes..
Shaggy Dog Story: The whole film sees Junior's effort to gain the attention of a love interest and competing with three bullies to do it. After he finally overcomes the opposition, he finds that said girl is a snooty control freak. But it works out in the end as he meets a much nicer girl shortly after.