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Toys wastes excellent sets with inane anti-war story

Directed by Barry Levinson.
Written by Valerie Curtin
and Barry Levinson.
Starring Robin Williams, Michael Gambon,
Joan Cusack, Robin Wright, and LL Cool J.
Loews Paris.

By Garlen C. Leung
Night Editor

Set design. That's about the only positive aspect of Toys, an otherwise dreary and inane story that is a bigger waste of time than its amusing commercials might lead one to believe.

Barry Levinson's latest creation, Toys, is one of the holiday season's true lemons. The zany Robin Williams performs only modestly and is sadly disappointing as Leslie Zevo, the son of Kenneth Zevo (Donald O'Connor), founder of Zevo Toys.

Just before he dies, Kenneth decides not to hand over control of Zevo Toys to Leslie because he is too irresponsible. Rather, he gives the helm to his brother, General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon). Leland is appalled by the lunacy that abounds in the factory, where the workers actually enjoy their jobs. His arrival to the company results in many changes, including the formation of a stupid counter-subversive security force led by his son Patrick (LL Cool J), a specialist in counter-espionage and camouflage.

Leland is fresh out of the army and has left his heart behind. Hoping to return to military dominance, he comes up with a plan for a "Top Secret" toy army that would dominate over all others.

This is a weak attempt to create an anti-war film, and it fails miserably. The plot is oddly unique, but Levinson does not take full advantage of it. Instead, the movie wanders in and out of subplots such as Leslie's relationship with Kenneth's hand-picked employee Gwen (Robin Wright). Finding one's way through this meandering story may be more difficult than navigating through the overly complex factory. Also, the film is not much of a comedy, providing only short and discontinuous bits of humor with very few laughs overall.

Production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti created the set for Zevo Toys in the Dada style. The rainbow colored Zevo factory rises out of a beautiful open plain of tall grass. The equally intriguing Zevo mansion is an ingenious pop-up playhouse.

Only one of the actors seems at home in this fanciful setting. Joan Cusack actually does an amusing job portraying Alsatia, Leslie's extremely odd sister. Her screws are just a bit too loose, though.

Except for the interestingly designed sets, Toys is a terrible disappointment with a corny plot and poor direction. If you missed this holiday film, good. Save your money for something more worthwhile.