The 10 years between 1985 and 1995 were probably Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finest years. Starting with Commando, he then went on to do some of the finest action films ever put to celluloid, including The Running Man, Total Recall, Terminator 2 and True Lies. His penchant for comedy also saw him team up with his aesthetically antithetical actor, Danny DeVito in Twins, another highly memorable role. However, Kindergarten Cop, from 1990, the height of Arnie’s powers, seems to have gone slightly ˜under the radar’ (for non-Arnie fanatics at least), probably because of it’s attempt to mix of comedy, drama and action, and therefore not really being properly aligned to any of them.
Despite the disparate genre though, Kindergarten Cop has become a cult classic for Arnie aficionados “ any film that spawns the funniest soundboard ever created deserves a place in history. It contains some of his most quotable comedy lines in Arnie film history (I’m the party pooper, It’s not a tumour! and the finest of them all, Who is your daddy, and what does he do?), and perhaps his most idiosyncratic performance. Before the obvious pastiche of True Lies and The Last Action Hero, Arnie played John Kimble, a hard line cop from Los Angeles, chasing the drug dealer Cullen Crisp (played to the highest level of stereotypical 80s ˜baddie’ by Richard Tyson). In order to finalise the case against Crisp, Kimble and his partner Phoebe O’Hara (played actually very well with some excellent comic panache by Pamela Reed) have to travel to the sleepy town of Astoria in Oregon to find Crisp’s ex-wife.
She is a teacher in the local school, and with the plan of O’Hara to go undercover as the Kindergarten teacher torpedoed by illness; Kimble steps in as the substitute teacher. So there he is, Arnie, the man mountain, surrounded by toddlers and pre-schoolers. They say never work with animals or children, but this is Arnie (and some of the children actually out-acted him). As the story unfolds, Kimble then falls for the ex-wife, and the usual good guy-bad guy narrative plays out “ with some of the driest, most atrocious scripting you’ve ever heard. The acting is on the whole terrible (Crisp’s mother is particular bad), the music is grating, the ˜storyline’ is horribly sterile and predictable, and there are some scenes which make you wince they are so corny.
However, this is not what the film is about. It’s about Arnie at his most ostentatious and bombastic. Whenever he is on screen, you are just waiting for his next gem, and very rarely does he fail to deliver. From the opening scenes, where is a tough LA cop, his one-liners have you slapping your thigh in adulation. The first few times he teaches the Kindergarten class, he is overwhelmed by the children’s behaviour and is overrun by them. Hilariously. But his interaction with them is nothing short of comedy gold. His conversations with the children in particular are some of the most repeatable, quotable and memorable movie lines that have ever been penned (that might just be the Arnie fanatic in me though, it’s hard to tell).
When he finally ˜gets them in line’, you see him grow from a policeman to a teacher, and I would hazard a guess that even the hardest of movie goers would have a little lump in their throat when the Kindergarten class recite The Gettysburg Address (even if it is a lump of I-can’t-quite believe-they’re-doing-this). But more fundamentally, you can’t help but root for Arnie and his supporting cast, because you hang on his every Germanically-inflected word. Every one of his film before this, he has been not fully aware of his powers of pastiche; and every film since, he has because a caricature of himself. Kindergarten Cop is a perfect Arnie storm “ it really is Arnie at his effervescent best.