As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This isn’t necessarily indicative of their quality or our willingness to enjoy them – sometimes, we’re just a little late to the party.
When it comes to ’90s action comedy, Kindergarten Cop is sort of like royalty. It’s seen as the cream of the crop, primarily because it merges one of the world’s greatest action stars with a premise that offers up plenty of inoffensive comedy. What’s more, the juxtaposition of Arnold Schwarzenegger starring opposite a cast of young (and presumably therefore difficult to control) children elevates that comedy on an abstract level, meaning that Kindergarten Cop is essentially a movie with a genius premise.
Still, Arnie doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a world-class thespian, and action comedy certainly isn’t considered the height of cinema. This lowers expectations for Kindergarten Cop considerably, especially when you’re watching it for the first time over three decades after its release. After making an extra allowance for the shift in cultural attitudes and humor in those intervening years, it’s fair to say that the bar was relatively low.
Following Officer John Kimble as he goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher in order to find the estranged wife of a wanted criminal, Kindergarten Cop does exactly what its title implies: puts a cop in a kindergarten class. Doing so obviously takes a little creative storytelling, but this is something that the film generally pulls off pretty well. Taking the rough-around-the-edges Kimble and forcing him to clean up his act to play nice with a room full of young children is a little jarring, but it generally holds up under scrutiny. However, from there, Kindergarten Cop‘s story hits a few snags.
Kindergarten Cop Is Frustratingly Riddled With Plot Holes
Promising though its premise may be, Kindergarten Cop‘s story falls prey to a number of irritating plot holes. The first is the idea that any school would allow an undercover police officer to pose as a teacher, then leave him unattended with a class full of children. From there, the plot continues to unravel, and as it was balanced on a relatively shaky foundation already, the whole thing starts to read like it was written with the crayons in Kimble’s class.
At nearly every turn, Kindergarten Cop gets a little more ridiculous, and its attempts to sell its ideas as serious plot developments are a little insulting. This is a shame: its story is solidly entertaining despite how ridiculous it becomes. Its protagonists are all lovable and its villains are truly detestable, making Kindergarten Cop an untaxing feel-good movie with stakes that are uncomplicated (even if that does make the film generally simplistic). Its narrative issues are many, but they’re not impossible to forgive in a movie that subtly embraces its own silliness.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Saves This Otherwise Uninspiring Movie (& Makes It Truly Great)
By today’s standards, Kindergarten Cop comes off as unwittingly ignorant, and that’s hard to ignore even knowing it’s unintentional. However, Schwarzenegger’s performance offers enough unexpected sympathy to smooth over most of it, even going as far as to subvert the central premise’s “funny” idea of a man taking care of young children. By equating Kimble’s role in his students’ lives to that of a father protecting and teaching his children, Kindergarten Cop actually challenges society’s traditional gender roles years ahead of the cultural revolution.
Though many of Kindergarten Cop‘s narrative and comedic ideas could be construed as problematic, Schwarzenegger’s turn as Kimble hits just the right notes to access the film’s emotional core without undermining its tone. Though it may not seem overly complex, this actually gives Kindergarten Cop a sense of depth that elevates it far beyond a funny premise for an action movie: it’s a layered examination of a man’s role both in society and in the family unit. Kimble’s journey from a distant father hiding from his own relationship with his son to a patient and measured caregiver unconcerned with his masculine image is one of cinema’s greatest character arcs, and it’s hidden in a movie that seems utterly ridiculous at a glance.
Summary: Kindergarten Cop manages to be both incredibly dumb and surprisingly sensitive, making an easy-to-watch movie that’s also socially conscious. In this, it manages to be way ahead of its time, thanks to a funny and deceptively nuanced performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Highlight: The scenes in which Kimble slowly comes to understand how important his role in his students’ lives really is are both touching and hilarious, brought to life by excellent comedic performances from the entire cast.