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Put ‘Boss Baby’ in a Corner

A funny premise and Alec Baldwin aren’t enough to save this wet blanket of a kids’ movie

(20th Century Fox)
(20th Century Fox)

Is there anything funny about The Boss Baby? Well, there’s the premise, in which the general sense that newborn babies take over people’s lives gets actualized as a factory-made, briefcase-carrying tot who is sent to literally run a family’s life. And there’s Alec Baldwin, who voices said baby, but who of course can’t sound like anyone but Alec Baldwin, giving the movie its only real joke.

No, in other words, there’s nothing especially funny about The Boss Baby — but there is something darkly funny about a middling kids’ movie. Giving adults a steaming pile of “average Baldwin brother film” has been a thing since the ’80s. But repackaging that stuff as animated farce for kids feels premature and vaguely mean, like saddling them with hair loss and student loan angst when they’re still elementary-schoolers. Kids are too young to be confronted with blah movies. Can’t the boring, normie bullshit wait until at least puberty?

Then again, why not — Boss Baby’s target audience certainly doesn’t know any better, and the movie is sort of clever and imaginative when it wants to be. Tim, the main character, is a 7-year-old who turns every bath time into a deep-sea expedition and every backyard tussle with his dad into an epic David-and-Goliath battle. Tim is living the life — the life of an only child, that is. When his parents ask how he’d feel about a sibling, he says, “No thanks! I’m enough!” Too late: His mom is pregnant again. And before you know it, here comes his new baby brother, sliding and jiving up the walkway to the house like he’s about to guest-host The Arsenio Hall Show.

In this movie, babies are born and bred in the giant Baby Corp. factory, where they’re pampered and pacifiered in assembly lines, then tickled on their tummies to see where they’ll end up next. The cutesy-wutesy, giggling ones get sent directly to families. But the remaining few humorless boobs get sent to work for Management, which is responsible for keeping babies in power — hence “Boss Baby.” “If people knew where babies come from,” Baldwin says in the movie, “they’d never have them — or hot dogs.”

You’d be excused for seeing the trailer for Boss Baby and thinking, “A Trump movie? Already?” There’s no real connection, besides the fact that the Boss Baby is a blond jerk with power. Well, and some of the throwaway lines — like “Cookies are for closers” — have that Glengarry bite that later became camp fodder for shows like The Apprentice. But the movie is more about the joy of seeing an infant get to be a real dick: one who slaps his mom’s hand away when bottle feeding and takes calls on his Fisher-Price phone like every financial consultant roommate I’ve ever had and hated. I personally love the asshole children of cinema; be they Boss Baby or Rosemary’s Baby, they strike me as incredibly true to life.

There isn’t very far for this particular asshole child to go. Baldwin’s voice work and the baby-factory plot conceit get old after 30 minutes. You’d think that’s all a kids’ movie really needs, but when I saw it at a weekday matinee full of children, there was little excitement in the audience to speak of. It’s possible these kids were all impeccably well behaved (unlikely) or so rapt with entertainment that they were stunned into silence (even less likely). Or maybe they, too, were Boss Babies, secretly marveling at this raw account of their power. Maybe being a Boss Baby is what it takes to appreciate this movie — in which case, I look forward to word of a White House screening. They’ll love it.