Mason Gamble as Dennis Mitchell in Dennis (1993)

The American Menace

I've always been a Dennis the Menace fan or at least a fan of the British Dennis the Menace because for those who don't know back in 1951 two Dennis the Menaces were created an American one and a British one. Now "Dennis" the movie is about the American Menace which started its life as a newspaper comic strip before being becoming a TV series at the end of the 50s. Here we have a movie produced by John Hughes and with that little bit of information you can actually take a good guess of what happens in this movie version, Dennis of course accidentally upsets Mr. Wilson again and again but he also deals with a bad guy in a slapstick fashion. As such "Dennis" was and still is a movie for young children because anyone over the age of fifteen is likely to see too many similarities with other child, bad guy, slapstick movies and yes I am on about "Home Alone".

With his parents both away on business young Dennis (Mason Gamble - Arlington Road) is staying with his neighbours George (Walter Matthau - JFK) and Martha Mitchell (Joan Plowright) and it is George's worst nightmare because normally Dennis just annoys him but staying with him is making him crazy. But Dennis also finds himself having to deal with a thief when he meets the dirty Switchblade (Christopher Lloyd) who having robbed several houses plans to kidnap him.

Walter Matthau as George Wilson in Dennis (1993)

Just for a brief moment and discussing "Dennis" from an adult's point of view I have to say whilst fun it is unoriginal and repetitive. The first half of the movie is all about Dennis annoying Mr. Wilson, we may have a storyline which sees George and Martha taking care of Dennis for a few days but what it comes down to is one accident and one angry Mr. Wilson after another. This then leads to the slapstick robbery part where Dennis innocently captures Switchblade, a thief, and in doing so inadvertently beats him up as he gets him, set on fire and so forth. It is seriously unoriginal and if you've watched "Home Alone" or the numerous movies which followed with children beating bad guys it is too predictable.

But then "Dennis" is a movie for young children, children who enjoy this sort of slapstick and comedy accidents and won't even care that it is so similar to other movies. And as such "Dennis" works with its series of gags where Dennis accidentally upsets Mr. Wilson, be it a tablet catapulted into his mouth or breaking his false teeth. I wouldn't say it was hilarious but even as an adult there is something simply amusing when Dennis trying to clear up spilt paint with a hoover wrecks Mr. Wilson's bar-b-que.

In truth the reason why "Dennis" works comes down to the performances and Mason Gamble as Dennis may be over cute but at least he doesn't seem to be trying to be Macauley Culkin. But the star for me is Walter Matthau who delivers such great comic faces as the angry Mr. Wilson but he also gets the few tender moments right, yes "Dennis" does surprisingly have some tender moments as Martha mentions that she would have loved to have had children. It does ironically mean that whilst there is also Christopher Lloyd as bad guy Switchblade he for once is overshadowed despite delivering some enjoying moments of humour especially when he comes a cropper thanks to Dennis.

What this all boils down to is that "Dennis" is purely a children's movie for children who enjoy the slapstick of "Home Alone" where bad guys end up getting hurt. But for adults who find themselves watching it will all be a little too familiar.