It's amusing how action films slip into the underground. Even the best ones rarely receive prizes or end up on the National Film Registry. Despite pacing being the number one factor, a fun example can evoke strong emotional vibrations. Having a resourceful anti-hero can certainly help. In the case of Toy Soldiers, there's more than one kind of rebel.
Although Billy Tepper (Sean Astin) enjoys selling alcohol disguised as "mouthwash" to his fellow pupils, he rarely escapes the watchful eye of Dean Parker (Louis Gossett Jr). However, the latter doesn't feel that expelling Billy from Regis boarding school would do the boy any favours. So it's pots and pans for the semester. Meanwhile, world events are shifting and a nasty Colombian faction led by Cali (Andrew Divoff, in his signature role) have made it across the border. They hijack Regis and take Billy, his friends and the other students hostage. Ultimately, the terrorist leader demands only one thing: the immediate release of his father being held in an American prison.
This terrorist cell appears to have all the bases covered. They have wired the entire campus to explode via a wrist trigger located on Cali's arm. They are packing heavy ordnance with round the clock surveillance. A head count is made "every hour on the hour." Speaking of which, Billy devises a plan to gather as much information as possible and secretly escape the grounds in order to share this intelligence with the army. However, it's a time sensitive matter. If he doesn't return before the head count, five of his peers will be shot. This makes for one of the more thrilling and suspenseful incidents in modern action cinema. Therefore, it's little surprise that Michael Kahn brings his A game to the cutting room.
Incidentally, an early scene highlights the camaraderie between Billy and his friends. They make an unauthorised call at night while on campus to a "hot" line. There's a lady named Jennifer on the other end. It's a noteworthy moment where comedy and chemistry combine to make something amusing, yet cheeky. Clearly, the boys have trouble with authority and this cleverly sets up how they handle the ensuing crisis.
Between them, director Daniel Petrie Jr. and composer Robert Folk coordinate enough sequences of high wire tension that Toy Soldiers moves to the top of the class. Admittedly, I had trouble believing that Jerry Orbach was a mob boss whose son hates him. After all, he's such a nice guy.
Time to rhyme:
Some are place holders.
This does not apply to Toy Soldiers.
It was mighty fine casting
To feature Louis Gossett Jr. and Sean Astin.
The joy ride in essence.
A fond childhood reminiscence.
Andrew Divoff made a superb baddie
It would never do for him to be a caddie.
Packing his favourite quill
Like a monstrous gill,
Robert Folk took to space like an eagle.
The flight first class and regal.
The charm won't fade
Because the dues were paid.
See it again and again on disc.
The pacing always brisk.
A recommendation from yours truly.
The assessment made dutifully.
Toy Soldiers is hands down
the genuine article and no clown.
(Released by TriStar Pictures. Rated "R" by MPAA.)