‘Kindergarten Cop 2’ Gets an F

(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. In this edition, we go back to school… again!)

The 1980s were heaven for action movie fans, and one of the biggest onscreen talents bringing violence and quips to the multiplexes was Arnold Schwarzenegger. As the decade wound down, he began mixing up his action hits with comedies including Twins (1988), Junior (1994), and Jingle All the Way (1996), but his highest-grossing comedy – and not-so-coincidentally his best – is 1990’s Kindergarten Cop.

I won’t pretend that Ivan Reitman’s film is a comedy classic on par with the likes of his Ghostbusters (1984) or Dave (1993), but Kindergarten Cop is still a very funny, terrifically cast, and satisfying romp. It’s a fun watch! The DTV sequel that showed up 27 years later like some kind of low-rent Pennywise the Clown? There’s not a damn thing that’s fun about Kindergarten Cop 2 (2017).

The Beginning

Schwarzenegger’s comedy career may have started with 1979’s The Villain, but he became a comedic lead for the first time in 1988’s Twins. (Although you could make an argument for 1987’s The Running Man being a comedy too…) Reitman was the genius responsible for seeing the potential in the big Austrian playing against type, and he followed it a couple years later with Kindergarten Cop, which casts him as a tough cop who goes undercover in an elementary school in the hopes of identifying a killer’s estranged ex-wife and son before the bad guy finds them first. Kimble is clueless about kids – his female partner was originally going to do it, but she fell ill – and his efforts to question them like suspects isn’t gaining any traction with them or the school’s principal, who’s allowed his presence with a very short leash. The kids grow on Kimble, though, as he learns to love and communicate without scaring the crap out of them, but soon after he finds the woman he’s searching for, her murderous ex arrives in town intent on abducting his son and killing anyone in his way. But, you know, interspersed with laughs.

kindergarten cop 2 trailer

The DTV Plot

The first film’s story is an exercise in simplicity. The sequel? Not so much.

FBI Agent Reed (Dolph Lundgren) and his partner arrested an Eastern European gangster named Zogu a year ago and as the case goes to trial, they’re assigned a possibly related one involving a man who was just involved in a traffic accident that left his own brother dead. The FBI notice that Albanian mobsters were tailing them before the accident, and it turns out that the survivor had tried selling them a hacked download of the FBI’s Witness Protection database. Zogu’s gangsters attack the FBI building – which suddenly appears to be barely occupied – in pursuit of the guy and his flash drive, and the feds learn that it was actually the dead brother who was the hacker! He was also a kindergarten teacher, and he apparently hid the drive somewhere. It could literally be anywhere, but since his last words before dying in the crash were “The kids know”, it’s probably in his classroom. Sure, Jan.

Should they request a search warrant? Nah. A few forged docs later and Reed gets a job replacing the dead teacher – the principal has no clue he’s a fed – so he can search for the drive surreptitiously. How does this highly trained agent proceed? He asks the kids and another teacher directly if the dead guy ever gave them flash drives. Honest. “Did he ever act weird right before he died? Did he ever ask you to keep stuff for him? Like a backpack, a flash drive, or unmarked packages?” he asks the mildly dense teacher Olivia, who barely finds it odd or suspicious. He also plugs random flash drives into his computer, watches as a single image pops up automatically (not how drives work), and then tosses it aside because obviously flash drives can only hold one file at a time. Could the key to finding the drive be actively listening to the kids as they ramble about their class guinea pig (not to be confused with the school’s therapy pig)? Probably.

Talent Shift

Look, I like Lundgren as much as the next movie fan, but let’s not pretend he even comes close to matching Schwarzenegger’s over-sized persona and presence. Especially at 60 years old. Sure he’s tall, but despite the film’s insistence that he’s also muscular – his 30-year-old love interest mentions it more than once – he’s looking a little worse for wear. Not that you’d know it by the multiple women and a gay man throwing themselves his direction, but watch the guy try to move fast (here or in any of his recent DTV action movies). His knees appear to be in rough shape to the point that it looks like he’s in pain when he runs. My point is in addition to lacking Schwarzenegger’s personality and charisma, he’s lacking the physical presence that automatically finds humor in the contrast between him and the tiny children. When Schwarzenegger lifts a child in nostril-flaring frustration, it’s pretty damn funny. When Lundgren does it, he’s stiff, awkward, and probably in need of a few handfuls of Aspirin.

It gets even more dire outside of the film’s lead, starting with director Don Michael Paul. Kudos to him and his ongoing career, but it’s a steep drop from Reitman’s heyday. In addition to Jarhead 2: Field of Fire (2014), The Scorpion King: Book of Souls (2018), and Death Race: Beyond Anarchy (2018), he’s also helmed two Tremors and two Sniper sequels. Paul’s niche as director of uninspired DTV sequels appears to be well-deserved. Onscreen, poor Bill Bellamy is no Pamela Reed in the sidekick role, Aleks Paunovic is a cartoon compared to Richard Tyson as the villain, Sarah Strange can’t measure up to Linda Hunt’s original turn as the principal, and Darla Taylor pales beside Penelope Ann Miller when it comes to bringing the love interest to life. Again, not knocking their talent, but you wouldn’t question them if they decided to leave this film off their resume.

How the Sequel Respects the Original

A large-ish law enforcement officer goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher? Check.

How the Sequel Shits on the Original

The very basic premise is the only real inspiration this sequel takes from the original, and instead, it fails in finding a remotely engaging story, a solitary believable character, or even a single laugh. Rather than build humor in characters and interactions, the film goes heavy on making fun of more “topical” targets like peanut allergy panic and inventive spelling. You can’t call kids smart or say they’re wrong! There are no wrong feelings and no time-outs! Hilarious stuff. We even get a riff on one of the original’s more memorable kid lines – “Boys have a penis. Girls have a vagina.” – but this time a boy simply whispers “My sister has a vagina.” It’s not funny and is maybe a bit creepy instead?

Reitman’s original was no ode to logic and realism, but the sequel takes it to an indifferent extreme. The aforementioned attack on the FBI building is ludicrous, but it’s not alone. Two Russian (Albanian? It’s not clear) thugs attack Reed, saying they’re gonna kill a witness and steal the flash drive – and they then threaten to shoot him too – but rather than arrest them or even take their guns he simply punches them and heads to school. What the what?! And why is the kindergarten classroom clearly a lobby, library, or cafeteria of some sort?

And for a film making so many jokes about “liberal” America, it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that it also features the following: The women at the FBI all wear short skirts, Reed’s superior is a cookie-cutter take on the “angry black Captain” from ’80s cop movies, and one of the class’ two Asian kids is subtitled while speaking clear and understandable English. They even add a subtitle to his name on a card all the kids sign!

Toss in an overly aggressive score and a couple song covers – “I Want Candy” and “ABC” tied to scenes where the kids eat sweets and learn – and you have a film that simply exists for no good reason. It ends and you’re left indifferent aside from regretting the time spent watching it. You’ll never think of it again outside of occasionally wondering why the makers of Twix apparently paid for product placement here as Lundgren’s only vice. It’s referenced and shown four times throughout the film! I mean, I get it, Twix are delicious, but this is just silly.

Conclusion

More of a lazy remake than a sequel, Kindergarten Cop 2 replaces all of the first film’s laughs with a dull and distinct lack of humor. Dumb comedies have their place, but the key to their success remains in the word “comedy.” This film may be one, but it sure isn’t one.

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