He's so bad, even the nuns refused to keep him.
"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
There was also an animated television series based on the movies. Its page is here
Tropes associated with these movies:
- Asshole Victim: About 95% of Junior's targets.
- Bad to the Bone: Junior’s leitmotif is none other than George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone".
- Berserk Button: Don't speak ill of or insult Ben within earshot of Junior. It will bite you on the ass. Hard.
- Big Bad: Bow-Tie Killer. Junior applies as well.
- In the second film, we got LaWanda (at least for Junior), and Trixie (in general).
- Bowties Are Cool: The Bow-Tie Killer. Junior even wore one during the first film, because he idolized him. However, he threw it away at the end.
- For no reason, Junior wore one in 3, ignoring this fact. Though granted, the film was written by different people, compared to the first two.
- 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 newly-opened Universal Studios Florida), and the third film was filmed in Los Angeles.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Junior, although he doesn't show it much. Trixie is also one. Big Ben Healy isn't one.
- Kids Are Cruel: Junior, but only to people who deserve it. Junior himself is picked on by other kids just because he's adopted.
- Meaningful Name: Ben Healy literally heals Junior.
- Monster Clown: Junior has a fear of this as a Running Gag.
- No Indoor Voice: What did you expect from Gilbert Gottfried?
- 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.
- 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.
- Villain Protagonist: Junior
- Trixie also counts in the second movie.
- 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 mean 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.
- And There Was Much Rejoicing: The nuns throw a celebration at the orphanage when Ben Healy decides to adopt Junior.
- 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.
- Big Bad: Junior.
- Bow-Tie Killer, even more so.
- Butt Monkey: Mother Superior. Eventually Ben and Flo Healy themselves. Practically anyone under Junior's sly revengeful stunts.
- Chekhov's Gun: The dried-up prune Ben carries around as a good luck charm, which ends up saving his life when he takes a bullet for Junior.
- Diabolical Mastermind: Junior.
- Doorstop Baby: Junior was left at a random door, and this was repeated for each set of adoptive parents even when he outgrew the basket.
- Especially Zoidberg:
Big Ben Healy: Is there a lesson to be learned from all this? How about don't trust anyone?
Little Ben Healy: Not even your own father?
Big Ben Healy: Especially your own father!
- Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Bow-Tie Killer is the nickname of Martin Beck.
- 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.
- I Love the Smell of X in the Morning:
Junior: [After breaking several milk bottles] I love the smell of spilled milk in the morning. It smells like victory. note
- 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)
- Laser-Guided Karma: Several examples:
- 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.
- No Accounting for Taste: Ben is a Nice Guy while Flo is a self-centered harpy. The two share absolutely nothing in common.
- Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: The Bow-Tie Killer claims he's this.
- Oh, Crap: The parrot's reaction to Junior upon his arrival at the Healy house.
- Papa Wolf: Ben, when he meets up with Martin at the Circus.
Little Ben Healy: "What did you say you Bow-Tie freak? NOBODY hurts my boy, now let him go!"
- Same thing later on, when he uses himself as a shield to protect Junior from being shot by Martin.
- Recycled Soundtrack: The music during the bear attack is recycled from the 1987 film Real Men, also scored by Miles Goodman and also starring John Ritter.
- Shout-Out: The movie poster resembles that of Parenthood.
- Taking the Bullet: Ben does this for Junior at the climax when the Bow-Tie Killer shoots at him.
- Take That: This line from Big Ben Healy speaks for itself.
Big Ben Healy: "Happy? You don't know what you're letting yourself in for. For all you know, his parents may have met in the looney bin. They might even be Democrats!"
- 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
- Artistic License – Engineering: The Crazy Dance Scene. Normally, there would have been a kill switch in easy reach of the operator who could have shut the ride down for going too fast instead of simply gaping as he's shown to do. For that matter, the speed controls would likely be accessible only to him instead of simply being out in the open as they are. But then we wouldn't have a scene of unadulterated gross-out comedy.
- 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 Bitch Child Hater who has it in for him.
- Big Bad: Junior and Trixie.
- LaWanda, at least for them.
- 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.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: LaWanda threatens to send Junior to Baghdad.
- Covered in Gunge:
- Diabolical Mastermind: Junior, and Trixie.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Junior's barred from an amusement park ride due to being about a millimeter too short. After he sees Trixie cheat her way in by wearing platform shoes, he decides to tamper with the ride's controls, causing it to spin much too fast. Sure, it only made everyone on the Crazy Dance throw up, but something much worse could have easily happened.
- Distaff Counterpart: Trixie is every bit the prankster that Junior is.
- 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.
- Entitled Bastard: Big Ben Healy was a lousy father, and even worse step-grandfather to Junior, yet has no problems using his son's home as a safe house from the SEC.
- Explosive Overclocking: The Crazy Dance Sequence. Junior turns the machine up as far as it will go (why the ride's controls are so accessible in the first place is anyone's guess), resulting in a 2-minute barfing spree before the ride's machinery disintigrates in a shower of sparks and smoke.
- 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.
- Guess Who I'm Marrying?: Ben nearly marries a child-hating millionairess.
- 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.
- Make a Wish: The purpose of the Love Rock.
- 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."
- Senseless Phagia: Two examples:
- Junior urinates into a pitcher of lemonade and passes it off to an unsuspecting bystander.
- Junior sets loose a cockroach army into his family’s dinner.
- Sleep Cute: Junior and Trixie, at the foot of the Love Rock.
- Suck E. Cheese's: Both families go there and a Food Fight breaks out.
- Too Dumb to Live: LaWanda tries pulling a You Shall Not Pass on a rolling boulder and gets crushed. She only survives by luck.
- Villainous Breakdown: "Oh... Oh... I'M PINOCCHIO!"
- Vomit Chain Reaction: The Crazy Dance sequence combines this with Covered in Gunge.
- We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties: Invoked by Trixie when she hijacks the puppet show. (The bald eagle puppet: "I had to scratch my balls!")
- 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..
Problem Child 3: Junior in Love