Anyone who is a fan of The Goonies (1985), and there are many, is usually delighted to see Sean Astin in anything. As Mikey, the leader of the title band of young local misfits chasing pirate gold, Astin was part of some of the most iconic cinematic moments of the 1980s, or at least the ones to come out of that film. I believe the film did more to sell Superman t-shirts at that time than any of the strange series of movies about the Kryptonian that came out in the 1970s and into the 1980s. Given the success of The Goonies, you would expect that Astin would have gone on take part in a host of more memorable productions. But that did not happen. I enjoyed him in 50 First Dates (2004) as much as the next guy, but that was not a starring role. Neither was his solid performance in the second season of Stranger Things. He was a great friend as Samwise Gamgee to Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Yet, it was Frodo who carried the ring, not Sam. Do you remember anything else in which Sean Astin appeared? What about Toy Soldiers (1991)?
Colombia, am I right? That is where Toy Soldiers begins, with Luis Cali (Andrew Divoff) and his band of drug cartel thugs taking over a judicial building. He is demanding the release of his father, the kingpin Enrique (Jesse Doran), from prison. The one hitch in this plan: dear old dad has already been extradited to the United States. Luis’ next plan, then, is to make his way north and kidnap the son of the Federal judge presiding over his father’s case. This son is Phil Donoghue (Knowl Johnson), and he goes to the Regis Preparatory School, a sort of all boys boarding school where rich parents dump their delinquent kids because they got kicked out of other schools. The government soon figures out that Luis might attempt such a move, and they decide to take Phil away to a secure location. He leaves behind a group of friends, the ringleader of which is Billy Tepper (Sean Astin). Where other students are merely rebellious, Billy excels in acting out. He spray paints over the school’s sign at the front gate, obtains alcohol for a clandestine drinking session with his mates, and is able to tap into the school’s telephone so that he and his friends can call a phone sex line. When he is caught by one of the school’s deans, Edward Parker (Louis Gossett Jr.), he also attempts to shield his co-conspirators from any of the blame. Instead of kicking Billy out of the school, Parker puts the head troublemaker on pots and pans duty for the rest of the semester, vowing that he would get Billy to graduate. Not long after this night, Luis and his compatriots arrive and take over the school, looking for Phil. Though Luis is initially angered by not finding his target, he realizes he has a building full of valuable hostages with which he believes he can bargain for his father’s release. Not wanting to take their capture passively, Billy and his friends begin devising ways they can help disrupt the terrorists. The first thought comes from Joey Trotta (Wil Wheaton), the son of the head of a mafia family. He wants to obtain a gun from one of their guards and start shooting. Billy has a more level-headed approach, wanting simply to gather as much information as possible. Obtaining the data is one thing, getting it to the right people is another matter entirely. Luis is keeping a close watch on the students and faculty, doing hourly headcounts during the day. Billy, though, has become an expert at knowing the secrets entrances and exits to the school. With his friends creating a diversion, he slips out to the gathered authority figures to pass along what they know of their captors. He also must slip away from soldiers watching the school, who want to keep him there for his protection. The men in uniform do not understand that if he does not make it in time for the count, they will begin shooting hostages. Included in what is eventually handed to General Kramer (R. Lee Ermey), leader of the forces surrounding the school, is a plan devised by Billy to hide the boys in a hidden part of the basement in the event of an assault on the terrorists. A shootout on the ground is the last thing anyone wants, particularly since Luis has rigged the buildings with explosives should such an attempt be made. What makes an attack a reality is the death of Joey, who is gunned down when Luis tries to free the boy due to his family’s connections. Joey does not want to leave, and attempts to steal a gun and apparently carry out his original plan. When news reaches the prison where Enrique is being held that Luis’ men killed Joey, a riot breaks out and Enrique is murdered. Now Luis has nothing for which to bargain, and Billy’s plan is affected, saving the day.
While watching Toy Soldiers, I was gratified to see that the men running the school were not depicted as a group of self-important jerks who have no patience for their charges’ antics. Granted, the students, particularly Billy and his friends, seem inclined to cause trouble for its own sake. At the same time, they display a respect for Dean Parker and the headmaster, Dr. Robert Gould (Denholm Elliott), that is refreshing. In many respects, it reminded me of my days as an elementary student in Catholic School. While the kids in the film did not have to wear uniforms as we did, and our school was co-ed, the relationship between us and the faculty was always good. Not that we were without trouble. I recall once in the fourth grade somebody wrote a curse word on the back wall. When no one would confess to the crime, our teacher made the entire class stay behind until someone admitted to it. For whatever reason I really wanted to go home that day, so I took the blame despite my innocence. We also loved our priests and deacons. Particularly for us younger kids, whenever they came to our classrooms it was like a rockstar had entered. There may be some of you reading this who might be wondering whether or not anything inappropriate went on at my school between the priests and any of the children. You can believe me (or not) when I say this, but nothing happened to me or anyone else that I knew. And there were ample opportunities for something to happen with me as I was an altar server and would have to show up quite early for daily Mass. One of my parents would drop me off alone in the morning and think nothing of it. I bring this up only because recent decades have scarred us, altering our perception of how these kinds of relationships work. When you see an all-boys school such as in the film, there might be some who wonder what is going on that we do not see. Given how the relationships they depict work, I see no reason to assume that something untoward is happening.
One thing I could have done without seeing in Toy Soldiers, though, are all the moments in the dormitories when they are in their underwear. They are not long scenes, but even a little bit of it is too much. It is a really strange and disconcerting direction in which to take the film. Overall, the movie is kind of dumb. There are better Sean Astin titles to be seen.