Baby's Day Out

Crimes:

• Furthering the creative bankruptcy of the once-reliable John Hughes, who wrote and produced this slapstick-fest, and must have pitched it to the studio as "Like Home Alone… with a baby!"

• Starring super-mugging Joe Mantegna and Joe Pantoliano as accident-prone kidnappers

• Wasting the inherent cuteness of an adventurous baby in the big city by piling up the scenes of people getting punched and kicked

Defender: Director Patrick Read Johnson

Tone of commentary: Amiable, disarming. Judging by his cultural references, Johnson recorded this commentary years after the movie flopped at the box office, and while he doesn't talk about the failure, he's very forthcoming about how he finessed the baby effects. The movie used a combination of Rick Baker-designed mechanical babies, Verne Troyer in a baby suit, and real babies guided by a shiny, shiny laser-pointer.

What went wrong: Nothing much, by Johnson's account, though when he points out the first-ever example of an ILM-designed digitally animated baby mouth, cineastes everywhere must shudder. Also, Johnson does cop to the fact that he frequently sped up shots and cut out frames to create a more artificially frenetic feel. Of one jumped-up diaper-changing sequence, Johnson says, "People laugh at this, but it's really just a desperate attempt at fun."

Comments on the cast: Of his biggest star, Johnson says, "When you work with Joe Mantegna in Chicago, it's like working with the pope in Rome." He also points out that the babies crawling after the laser-pointer's moving dot often "tried to eat it like a bug."

Inevitable dash of pretension: The movie's cleaned-up retro Chicago represents "the world we wish we all lived in, where there's no gum on the sidewalk."

Commentary in a nutshell: "That was a mechanical leg kicking Joe in the privates."

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