Let’s face it: The fact that a movie with the title and premise of 1999’s Baby Geniuses even got made in the first place reflects poorly not just on the film industry but on humanity as a whole. The fact that it was successful enough to spawn a whole slew of sequels, though, is even more damning. Finally, the fact that Academy Award-winner Jon Voight was involved in every single one of those sequels — even the direct-to-video ones — playing different characters, certainly says something about him and the kinds of roles he’s apparently up for these days.
You might imagine that Baby Geniuses, abysmal and desperate as it was, set the bar so prohibitively low that it would be impossible for a sequel to shimmy under it. You would be wrong. 2004’s Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 scored a perfectly terrible Zero here at Rotten Tomatoes and, as of this writing, it has been voted the second worst film of all time by the users of Internet Movie Database. That’s bad. Real bad. It’s very close to being the absolute worst.
Superbabies is the final feature film of Bob Clark, who kickstarted the modern teen sex comedy with his semi-autobiographical surprise 1981 hit Porky’s. But he also boasts a fascinating, if violently uneven, filmography that includes nadirs like the Gene Hackman/Dan Aykroyd Multiple Personality Disorder-themed buddy-cop comedy Loose Cannons, the influential cult classic slasher Black Christmas, and most impressively and surprisingly, the Yuletide perennial A Christmas Story.
Yes, Baby Geniuses and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 were shepherded into existence by the man who co-wrote and directed one of the greatest, most insightful and beloved movies about children ever made.
Some children’s movies are so gimmicky and pandering that they accidentally border on avant-garde and surreal. That’s Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. It’s less a conventional kiddie sequel than a Nazi-saturated, wildly inappropriate waking nightmare that singlehandedly set CGI back decades and brought out the incompetent amateur in a veteran filmmaker. Superbabies won’t entertain children or adults, but it will make you feel like you’re gradually sliding further and further into madness.
Superbabies focuses on Kahuna, an age-defying toddler who, with the help of the titular Superbabies, must thwart an evil plan engineered by his excessively German brother Kane (played as an adult by Jon Voight) to brainwash the children of the world with subliminal messages on his inane children’s TV channel. Said Superbabies are a culturally diverse assortment of glib archetypes that includes Finkelman the neurotic Jew (Jared and Jordan Scheideman), tomboy Haley (Maia and Keana Bastidas), and token African-American Alex (Joshua and Maxwell Lockhart), who communicates largely in outdated slang.
While the baby geniuses are all played by identical twins, Kahuna himself is played by triplets (Gerry, Leo and Myles Fitzgerald), voiced by still another actor (David Kaye), and realized onscreen much of the time by what are obviously little people stuntmen and body doubles in blonde wigs and Osh Kosh B’Gosh. So there’s a very good reason the main performance feels incoherent and unfocused. To paraphrase the old aphorism, it takes a village to raise — or in this case, portray — a child.
Kahuna is first invoked here as a creature of pure myth, a fabled “superbaby” capable of speaking to both adults and the titular heroes, who appear to be regular, baby-talking tots to grownups around them but are actually ultra-intelligent prodigies whose secret communications we’re privy to. This means that their lip movements deliberately do not match the words we’re hearing. Then again, that’s true of many of the adults in the film as well.
While still a boy in the 1940s, Kahuna drank a potion his scientist father invented that stopped the aging process and gave him magical powers. So while others came of age and fell in love and started families, Kahuna retained the image and attitude of a sassy Dennis the Menace type deep into his golden years. Eternal youth is a gift, to be sure, but also a curse whose sinister connotations the movie never addresses or explores, and the more you think about Kahuna’s life, the sadder and creepier it becomes.
If he genuinely were the small child he appears to be, then it would presumably be amusing for him to spout canned one-liners like “I’m your worst nightmare: a small fry with a big attitude!” or “Hey Prissy pants, don’t wet yourself!” But when you consider that Kahuna is really a senior citizen whose father — and, presumably, many of his friends and loved ones — is long dead, and whose brother is a lunatic who wants to destroy him, then he seems less like a hero for the ages than an emotionally stunted sad sack living in a bittersweet world of eternal childhood.
Oh, and those magical powers? One of them is the ability to walk on walls and ceilings, but in action, it’s actually rather nightmarish, more Linda Blair in The Exorcist or the baby in Trainspotting than a miniature version of Superman. He’s also supposedly able to use the power of imagination to transform other babies into superheroes, but even that comes across half-baked. Late in the film, the Superbabies do engage in distractingly unconvincing super heroics for roughly two or three minutes as their alter egos Brain Boy, Cupid Girl, Bouncing Boy, and Baby Courageous. Unfortunately, it’s not just too little, too late; it’s less than nothing at the last possible moment.
Kahuna’s lair is presented as a kiddie version of the Batcave mixed with the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse set for whimsy, but it looks instead like the Phantom of the Opera’s subterranean home redesigned by Liberace using the shoddiest of cardboard. It’s meant to be Kahuna’s Neverland, a techno paradise where kids can live out their wildest dreams and only need to believe in themselves and their boundless potential, but it’s a poor imitation, more Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch on its saddest and most sinister day.
SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2 is so violently divorced from reality that watching it feels like suffering a psychotic break; forget cognitive dissonance or suspension of disbelief. More than once, one of the film’s diaper-wearing thespians will violate one of the core rules of film and look directly into the camera’s lens in a way that only adds to the sense that the world as we know it is deteriorating into pure insanity.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone, though. The actors playing the Superbabies perform with the craft, nuance, and sophistication you might expect from performers who still regularly soil themselves. Then again, so does Jon Voight, and I would like to think he’s at least potty-trained by this point. Judging from the film, though, it’s unclear whether these bottle-drinking Oliviers even understood what a movie was, let alone the fact that they were in one.
Superbabies also has an astonishing amount of kid-unfriendly darkness. Early in the film, for example, we learn that Voight’s Bill Biscane/Kane imprisoned children in secret camps throughout East Germany in 1962 before Kahuna liberated them and freed the babies. In a bold if perhaps misguided acting choice, Voight decided to base his sneering bad guy on Nazi butcher Dr. Josef Mengele. But even if his character didn’t rock a modified Hitler mustache and goose-step everywhere in a Teutonic fury, it’d still be difficult to watch scenes of children being sent to camps in East Germany and not think about Schindler’s List rather than something like The Goonies.
Like far too many glaringly unnecessary sequels, Superbabies concludes by teasing yet another sequel, which not only happened, but led to two more equally unnecessary follow-ups. The world is a stupid and frequently terrible place, and this sequel to a movie that never should have been made in the first place illustrates why.
Bob Clark died tragically in 2007 from a fatal car accident, his final two projects being this and the 2005 television movie The Karate Dog, which also, perhaps unsurprisingly, featured Jon Voight. The Baby Geniuses franchise, however, outlived the auteur who first breathed life into it. Superbabies was followed nearly a decade later by 2013’s Baby Geniuses and the Mystery of the Crown Jewels, 2014’s Baby Geniuses and the Treasures of Egypt, and most recently, 2016’s Baby Geniuses and the Space Baby.
Yes, the Baby Geniuses folks are really testing the notion that small children will watch anything. For a franchise built around the cloying, cutesy conceit of precocious genius, Superbabies is astonishingly, almost impressively stupid, an abomination that fully lives up to its reputation as the worst of the worst.
Nathan Rabin is a freelance writer, columnist, the first head writer of The A.V. Club and the author of four books, most recently Weird Al: The Book (with “Weird Al” Yankovic) and You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me. Follow Nathan on Twitter: @NathanRabin