Review: Munchie (1992)

Munchie

Directed by Jim Wynorski
Starring Jamie McEnnan, Dom DeLuise, Loni Anderson, Jennifer Love Hewitt

On the front of the Munchie VHS box, the titular character can be seen riding a gravity-defying pepperoni pizza like a skateboard. He never does this in the movie, but he does teach a kid how to punch someone in the face and cheat in math class, and these are both fun things. Later, he throws a party and passes out, drunk, behind a couch. Someone picks him up and tosses him in a garbage bag. I guess this is fun, too.

By 1992, Jim Wynorski definitely had had a pretty good grip on “fun,” having directed films titled Chopping MallSorority House Massacre II, and Scream Queen Hot Tub Party, basically cornering the market on tongue-in-cheek horror movies featuring underdressed women and really bad puns. Browsing through his filmography on IMDb means reading a lot of reviews describing “exquisite” breasts and “generous helping[s]” of “bosoms,” with little attention given to anything else. One reviewer notes, “I admire Jim for his ability to get women naked in all of his films.” Indeed.

Munchie is a movie intended for children, directed by a dedicated connoisseur of the female body. It opens with a high speed police chase and ends with the hijacking of a commercial aircraft. If you rented Munchie for your kids in 1992, you would not have been aware of these things. You would have assumed it was a movie about a flying pizza gremlin. Before the Internet, choosing movies for your kids was like hiring a babysitter by crossing your fingers and dialing random phone numbers.

As far as one can assume, Munchie (voiced by Dom Deluise) is an ageless, immortal being (who may or may not be responsible for the existence of most religions and ancient civilizations – this is only briefly touched upon) who befriends a kid named Gage after being released from a magic wooden chest. After an initial moment of shock, Gage warms up to Munchie because they both like pepperoni pizza a lot. After a delicious dinner of their favorite food, Munchie reveals himself to be some kind of second-rate genie with no respect for rules, common sense, or child molestation laws.

Like most kid-friendly movie creatures of the ’80s and ’90s, Munchie is a puppet. But instead of being convincingly animated like, say, the stars of Gremlins, his facial movements are limited to eyebrows and lips, leaving him with a permanent smile glued to his face and a mouth that can’t completely close (making his obsession with eating pizza a tragic one). The puppetry is so poor that Munchie’s first appearance is nothing short of terrifying, as Dom Deluise’s voice belts out “Hello, My Baby” while puppeteers struggle with the very limited capabilities of the creature’s frozen, sneering mouth. Every time Munchie appears onscreen, the puppeteers jiggle his eyes back and forth, essentially providing him with an especially disturbing case of epilepsy. Munchie looks like he was designed by studying Stephen King’s dream journal.

The adult characters found in Munchie are more or less John Hughes archetypes: Everyone either ignores or hates Gage, except for his mother, Cathy (who simply tolerates him), and a next-door neighbor, Professor Cruikshank, who spews nonsense garbage like “Reality is only good for somebody who can’t cope with imagination” while idly musing about building nuclear reactors. Loni Anderson (Cathy in the film) has a face so ravaged by cosmetic surgery that she more closely resembles Munchie than she does a human being. Elliott (Andrew Stevens), a possible suitor of Cathy’s, sports a confusing mustache with accompanying gold chain and windbreaker. He likes to make eye contact with Gage as he macks on his mom, which isn’t healthy stepdad behavior.

Anyway, Gage is deeply troubled (and when I say “deeply troubled,” I mean he contemplates suicide more than once and spends a lot of time imagining how great his funeral will be) because he’s the new kid at school, which means he gets bullied by his peers and threatened by his principal (who hates him for some reason). He’s also madly in love with Andrea (Jennifer Love Hewitt, credited as “Love Hewitt,” presumably because her parents wanted her to pursue a career in adult entertainment), who, despite exchanging steamy glances with him in math class, doesn’t know Gage exists (according to Gage). Munchie jumps to help Gage and teaches him that violence, cheating, and wild, booze-fueled parties are the only way to make it in life. Munchie’s somewhat troubling personal beliefs and values, along with Professor Cruikshank’s constant reminders that imagination is superior to responsibility, make up the film’s takeaway message: Beer is cool and so is punching people in the mouth (also you can call Hugh Hefner and get girls “airlifted” to your place of residence if you can pull off a passable Jack Nicholson impression).

Compared to the rest of the characters in the film, Gage is mature, thoughtful and bright for his age. He just can’t add or subtract fractions. The film might possibly appeal to kids who think school is lame and adults are out to get them, but Munchie was created by someone with a cloudy memory of childhood and a deep misunderstanding of how the real world works, resulting in a confusing collection of scenes that try to pander to children, but completely and utterly miss the mark. In the film’s big party setpiece, Gage and Andrea dance together in the middle of a room filled with horny, boozed-up adults as Munchie makes a mess in the bathroom and drinks himself into a stupor. The film ends with Munchie hijacking an airplane, because that was fun 20 years ago, I guess.

Munchie owes its conception entirely to the booming VHS market of the 1990s. Back then, once your kid has rented all the Disney videos, their choices were limited, and this, horrifyingly enough, was one of them. The death of rental stores and the advent of online user reviews and parental guides means that weird garbage like this won’t make it past the first few minutes of research. But today, Munchie is permanently catalogued and digitized, ready to be witnessed by unbelieving eyes twenty years after the fact. Jim Wynorski failed to make a children’s movie, but he succeeded in capturing a small, nightmarish part of the ’90s forever. Just be thankful there isn’t a sequel.

Oh wait. There is. Thanks, ’90s.

Links:

Netflix – Munchie
YouTube – Home Video Trailer

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