July 08, 1985 12:00 PM

Combining suspense, science fiction fantasy and the formidable charms of a doe-eyed little boy, D.A.R.Y.L. stars 11-year-old Barret Oliver. Oliver (Wilford Brimley’s grandson in Cocoon) is a skinny, strangely quiet kid who finds himself abandoned and with no recall of anything except his name, Daryl. At the start the boy narrowly escapes a high-speed chase on a treacherous mountain road. He is found in the forest and brought into a small town, where he is put in the care of a childless young couple, Michael (This is Spinal Tap) McKean and Mary Beth (The World According to Garp) Hurt. Surprisingly, Oliver adjusts effortlessly to his foster parents. In fact, there seems to be nothing he can’t do. He dazzles his friends with his computer game wizardry, gives his math teacher a nervous tic because his answers are always correct, hits home runs in his first baseball game and even makes his own bed. His foster mom begins to worry that “he doesn’t seem to need anyone.” In time, however, the once-distant Oliver becomes fiercely close to McKean and Hurt and to his mischievous best friend, played with wise-guy humor by Danny (Mrs. Soffel) Corkill, 10. Corkill shows Oliver the ropes, as when he advises him to mess up sometimes. “Grown-ups like to feel they’re making progress with you,” he says. One day, though, Oliver is claimed by his “real” parents, actually a team of scientists working on a secret Pentagon project. The boy learns his name is an acronym for Data Analyzing Robot Youth Life form. He is human, but his brain is a microcomputer. His life turns into a high-tech nightmare as he is poked at and observed in his eerie, antiseptic room. When the scientists conclude that the boy has developed such emotions as anxiety and fear, the Pentagon brass decide to terminate him. One general says, “That’s all right for America but hardly what we need at the Department of Defense.” D.A.R.Y.L.’s script can be a little too cute—the malevolent military figures are hardly more than cardboard cutouts. Nonetheless, Australian director Simon (Phar Lap) Wincer, who has an easy technological fluency and a penchant for sneaky plot twists, pulls out the stops in building the suspense as Oliver attempts to escape. Though D.A.R.Y.L. stretches the limits of credibility, it is saved by Wincer’s fast-paced direction and by the warm, simple performances of McKean, Hurt and especially Corkill and Oliver. These two are camera naturals, performing instinctively with poise and disarming humor. For moviegoers with sky-high imaginations and mushy hearts, D.A.R.Y.L. satisfies like a summertime chocolate-chip ice-cream cone. (PG)

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