'Rascals' a little bit fun, a little bit flat


Not all movie history requires commemoration and reclamation.

Producer Hal Roach's "Little Rascals" comedies of the '20s, '30s and '40s are, for example, best left unsung. Flat, repetitive and (by today's standards) politically incorrect, these moldy short subjects (also known collectively as the "Our Gang" series) feature a motley crew of kids who play endless silly tricks on one another.

Buster Keaton, they aren't.

Just why Universal Pictures has decided to revive the antique kiddie concept as a feature film is even more of a mystery than why "Lassie" and "Black Beauty" recently have been resuscitated.

Possibly it has something to do with the perceived popularity of movies that combine kids (notably Macaulay Culkin) and slapstick comedy. It might also owe something to the brief flurry of interest in Roach's rascals back when Eddie Murphy parodied one of them on "Saturday Night Live." And while the old rascals did not exactly cry out to be reinvented for the '90s, I can report with some relief that director/co-writer Penelope Spheeris ("Wayne's World," "The Beverly Hillbillies") and her team nevertheless have managed to bring forth an amiable -- if not exactly inspiring -- kiddie flick.

The plot -- if that is what you want to call it -- concerns Alfalfa, a freckle-faced boy in bow tie and suspenders who is, as he puts it, in touch with his feminine side. Complications arise when Alfalfa falls in love with the sweet-smiling Darla.

The problem is that Alfalfa happens to be a member in good standing of the "He-Man Womun Haters" -- an organization whose bylaws do not permit fraternization with womuns . . . ah, womens . . . that is, girls.

As I have no wish to belabor the movie's flaws, I will simply note that there is a fine line between timeless comedy and tired comedy, and that "The Little Rascals" has one foot firmly planted on either side of it.

To her credit, Ms. Spheeris elicits winning performances from most of the kids -- a large miniature cast that includes Bug Hall as Alfalfa, Brittany Ashton Holmes as Darla, Ross Elliot Bagley as the dreadlock-wearing Buckwheat, Travis Tedford as gang-leader Spanky and Blake McIver Ewing (a Macaulay Culkin look-alike who can act) as a rich kid named Waldo who amusingly refers to Alfalfa as Falafel.

"Little Rascals"

Starring Travis Tedford, Zachary Mabry, Bug Hall, Brittany Ashton Holmes

Directed by Penelope Spheeris

Released by Universal

Rated PG


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