In the same vein as the marginally successful Twins with Danny DeVito, Kindergarten Cop was an attempt to portray Austrian superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger as a comedic performer. However, Kindergarten Cop (helmed by Twins director Ivan Reitman) was designed as an action-comedy rather than an outright comedy; depicting Schwarzenegger in a typical Schwarzenegger role within comedic circumstances. Still, who would’ve thought that, in the course of less then a decade, the hard-ass star of Conan the Barbarian and Commando would trade in his sword and firearms for milk moustache and a soft kindergarten teacher routine? Against all odds, though, Kindergarten Cop for the most part works. Armed with an often witty screenplay drenched in one-liners and a priceless self-deprecating performance by the inimitable Austrian Oak, this is solid entertainment, even if it is uneven.
Schwarzenegger appears here as Detective John Kimble, who has been pursuing murderous drug dealer Cullen Crisp (Tyson) for close to a decade. Kimble eventually swoops in to arrest Crisp on a murder charge, but they require a reliable witness testimony to throw Crisp away for life. Thus, Kimble and his new partner Phoebe (Reed) are sent to Astoria, Oregon to locate Crisp’s ex-wife and kindergarten-aged son, who are living incognito. The plan is for Phoebe to go undercover as a substitute teacher for the kindergarten class containing Crisp’s son in order to locate him. When Phoebe falls ill, though, Kimble is forced to fill in. With absolutely no prior teaching experience, Kimble’s assignment of handling a class of unruly kindergarten children turns out to be a particularly difficult one. Meanwhile, Crisp is determined to find his estranged wife and kid, and Crisp’s accomplices are fast working towards the release of the wanted murderer…
When Kimble deals with the children, Kindergarten Cop positively comes alive with an engaging, lively comic spark. It is critical to note that, although the narrative concerns murderers and cops, the comedic elements constitute the film’s bread & butter. Even though the film has a tendency to be contrived and cloying at times, it is easy to get the sense that the macho bodybuilding giant is in his natural element among children and when dispensing comedy, resulting in an utterly infectious charm. Ivan Reitman can always be counted upon to provide a fun time, with his filmography boasting such other efforts as Ghostbusters and Stripes. Thus, Kindergarten Cop moves forward at a usually agreeable pace, though the film is overlong at 110 minutes. For the majority of its runtime, Kindergarten Cop is wholly enjoyable; dishing up a handful of worthwhile laughs and leaving you with a big smile on your face. Who can complain about that?
With that said, though, Kindergarten Cop is all over the map from a tonal perspective; leaping from deadly serious one moment to light-hearted the next, implying that the filmmakers were unsure about what type of movie they were making and who their target audience was. The tonally schizophrenic picture may seem cuddly, cute and suitable for general family consumption, yet parents may find the film too graphic and casually violent for their children, what with drug dealing, brutal murder, child abuse and kidnapping being situated in amongst the gleeful cop vs. kindergarten kids antics. Kindergarten Cop carries a PG-13 rating for good reason. Thankfully, the more serious material predominantly lies in the film’s peripheries, allowing easygoing laughs and a sweet, heart-warming love story between likeable characters to take centre stage in between the harder moments bookending the picture.
To state the obvious, Schwarzenegger has never been honoured for his skills as a thespian – he is primarily recognised for his action roles demanding him to perpetrate violence instead of impressing the Oscar community, making him an unlikely candidate for a comic actor. Nevertheless, Arnie’s performance here is surprisingly appealing, and he carried off the comedic elements to a high standard. To be fair, though, the majority of the humour is self-deprecating, with Arnie’s amusing line deliveries (“It’s not a tumour!” is a bona fide classic) and awkward interactions with the kids providing plenty of worthwhile laughs.
Ultimately, Kindergarten Cop feels like two movies: a cute kiddie flick and violent cop thriller. The merging of these two films of divergent tones is not exactly cohesive, however, making Kindergarten Cop too intense for most kids and at times too cloying for some adults. Yet, if taken as a surface-level ride and a guilty pleasure (warts and all), the film is predominantly fun and charming, making it a perfectly palatable slice of entertainment for a rainy afternoon. It is nowhere near as good as Arnie’s best action classics of course, but the film does its job well enough nonetheless.