The Goonies, a nostalgia item for those who came of age in the 1980s, has just enough adolescent truth to counterbalance the considerable, major-studio falsities. It’s often schlocky, yet speaks from the heart.
Above all, this is true to the camaraderie of boys who have been left alone to roam on their bikes. The self-described Goonies, all social outsiders in one way or another, include the asthmatic Mikey (Sean Astin); pudgy Chunk (Jeff Cohen); smirking Mouth (Corey Feldman); and geeky Data (Jonathan Ke Quan). Residents of an Oregon neighborhood that has been bought out to make way for a golf course, the gang spends their last day together on a long-shot adventure: seeking the rumored pirate treasure that is part of local lore.
There is a mildly subversive, slobs-versus-snobs thread here that recalls the ethos of other ’80s comedies, particularly Stripes and Caddyshack. Yet the primary sensibility of The Goonies can be captured in two words, uttered by Mikey when he comes across a treasure map in his attic: “What if…” The Goonies, like many summer afternoons I shared with the neighborhood boys of my youth, is a game of “what if,” given a Steven Spielberg budget. (Spielberg is a producer; Richard Donner directs). Anything you can imagine is possible – at least in your imagination.
In The Goonies, this means the boys – accompanied by Mikey’s older brother Brand (Josh Brolin) and two older girls (Kerri Green and Martha Plimpton) – actually do find a tunnel beneath an abandoned restaurant that appears to lead to the treasure. They also run into a trio of comic crooks (Anne Ramsey, Joe Pantoliano and Robert Davi) who, despite their bumbling, present a real threat. The movie’s comic highlight may be when Ramsey’s evil stepmother figure holds Chunk’s finger over a blender and demands he tell her everything he knows. He proceeds to confess every minor infraction he’s ever committed since preschool.
When Mikey sucks on his inhaler, it’s with the same authoritative manner Humphrey Bogart would take a drag from a cigarette.
Cohen, as Chunk, nails that scene, but for the most part he and his cast mates give loud, Child Actor performances. (Feldman’s Mouth is insufferable.) The notable exception is Astin, as Mikey. The rest are playing Goonies; Mikey is living it. He corrals them all – even his big brother and those intimidating girls – on the adventure, and once there he bravely leads them through the series of Indiana Jones-style booby traps. When he sucks on his inhaler, it’s with the same authoritative manner Humphrey Bogart would take a drag from a cigarette.
Astin also delivers one little detail that may be my favorite moment in the movie. Early on, Mikey and Brand look out from their porch over the little neighborhood they’re being forced to leave behind. Things get a bit teary, and Brand instinctively responds by offering something that’s half hug, half headlock. (More adolescent truth.) Mikey acquiesces, to the point that Brand has to pull him into the house, Mikey’s feet dragging along the ground. A bullying gesture becomes something else: a brotherly embrace.
A coda: Sloth. I’m tacking this on here because I have no idea what to make of the character, played by John Matuszak. The brother of the two criminals, Sloth is first introduced chained to a wall in the basement of the restaurant, bellowing like a wounded animal. When we finally get a close look at him, his face is horribly deformed: one side appears to be melting away, so that his left eye is almost level with his nose. Sloth is clearly meant to be an extreme “Goonie” – another outsider, rejected by his own family – and eventually he proves to be a crucial ally to the kids. Yet his scenes are so clunky and hokey they tend to undermine the intentions of the narrative. And a confrontation between Sloth and his mother (Ramsey), in which she confesses to child abuse, seems pulled from some horrific, adult fairy tale. In short, this isn’t a character that can be neatly tucked away by Chunk’s final, smiley pronouncement in the film’s painful last moments: “You can come live with us!”