Kindergarten Cop

Kindergarten Cop. Imagine Entertainment 1990

Before watching the movie:

I feel like this is the peak of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bankability. He went from a bodybuilder of little note outside the body building circuit to a breakout action star overnight, and now a few years later, he’s in a family-ish comedy about how he’s out of his element and toddlers are too much for him to handle.

I’m expecting a fun, snap-together vehicle comedy. Nothing that breaks ground, but fun worth coming back to. It seems to have stood out among his comedies as one people love.

After watching the movie:

LA police detective John Kimble finally arrests his white whale drug lord Cullen Crisp, who just killed a man who gave him information on the location of Crisp’s wife and son, who left him after stealing millions of Crisp’s drug money. Kimble gets assigned to go undercover to Cullen Jr’s school in Astoria, Oregon in order to try to find Crisp’s ex-wife and convince her to testify. Kimble is partnered with Det. Phoebe O’Hara, a former teacher who will be posing as a substitute kindergarten teacher for this assignment. Unfortunately, O’Hara suddenly gets sick on the way to Astoria, and can’t recover in time to teach, so Kimble goes to the school in her place. It’s just some little kids, nothing a hardened undercover cop can’t handle, after all.

This goes a lot darker than I expected. I thought this was going to be all slapstick “kindergarteners are monsters”, with a progression of Kimble slowly learning how to be a teacher, but the first 15 minutes are a PG-13 Dirty Harry movie, and that element of drama never really goes away, because unlike a lot of farces where the plot is an excuse to set up the comedy, this story never forgets that there’s an investigation under way involving a murderous drug dealer. Even so, it never really reaches the “tough as nails cop torn out of his element” kind of tone that such a setup seems to lean toward. It’s just two very different movies that manage to share the same space.

Like pretty much everyone in the movie, I’m surprised how well Kimble’s regimented police training approach to marshalling kindergarteners works. It seems like the most impact it would have on kids that young would be traumatizing them, but once he has their attention, he can get them to do almost anything as a group. It’s as much a part of his success as his experience as a father that is only talked about because his ex-wife left years ago and doesn’t want him involved in their son’s life.

I was expecting beginning to end madness like Jingle All The Way, or at least some more clear separation between Kimble’s world and the kindergarten classroom a bit like how Last Action Hero spoofs action movies and draws a distinction between them and the “real world”. Instead, I saw a movie that can stand on its own without a big name, with meaning and tension as well as a romance subplot that doesn’t feel tacked on. All I knew of the movie was the poster (and “it’s not a tumah”), but the poster is selling the wrong film.

One thought on “Kindergarten Cop

  1. nscovell June 14, 2019 / 7:22 am

    I think this is actually one of Schwarzenegger’s best films. I know it sounds stupid but something tugs at my heart strings during the Gettysburg address scene. A moment that gives the popular 80s and 90s genre of “bad ass cops doing bad ass things” a more heartfelt and fresh stance. Here we have Kimble as a loner, emotionless jaded cop that lives and breathes the badge. Nothing else matters and he’s forced into a situation he can’t handle. It culminates to this Gettysburg presentation scene. His class of children love him and he’s proven to be an amazing teacher. Even the school admins and community love him. This is a moment where our hero has changed and discovers something better. Which to me, indicates the Kimble character eventually quits the force to pursue a life of education.
    You didn’t ever get those kinds of emotions and depictions in “cop movies” and maybe a good reason why Kindergarten Cop remains a classic. I love the movie.

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