It takes only a limited vocabulary to describe "Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2," the unasked-for sequel to the 1999 "comedy" that starred Kathleen Turner and Christopher Lloyd as corporate meanies trying to take over the world by cracking the secret language of babies. Two words, in fact, and they're not the ones you might expect: less awful.
The original "Baby Geniuses," directed by Bob Clark with a clumsiness that astounds even today, posited that infants possess the "wisdom of the universe," something they lose when they "cross over" around age 2. Alas, the movie's children, voiced by adults and manipulated with effects generally reserved for talking cats in pet-food commercials, had little to impart beyond grade-Z potty humor and once-hip put-downs. Genuine laughs were nonexistent and the morals as subtle as hammer blows. The prognosis for a sequel was bad, and that was good.
Time passed, however, and studio executives -- definitely not possessing the wisdom of the universe -- decided that even a groaner like "Baby Geniuses" somehow merited a second chapter. Clark is back for a second helping, as are the Fitzgerald triplets (Gerry, Leo, and Myles), who jointly played the twins Sly and Whit. Now their single shared character is inexplicably named "Kahuna," and he's a permanently pint-size superhero whose mission is to rescue endangered children with all manner of "Spy Kids"-esque gizmos and bad computer animation.
Then there's the obligatory villain. Turner and Lloyd learned their lesson, so this time it's none other than Oscar-winner Jon Voight who takes the bullet. Against all expectations, he's the movie's single point of light. It could have been terrible, and in many ways still is: He's Kane, a former East German commandant turned media mogul who has a conveniently diabolical plan to control the children of the world through coded TV broadcasts. Fighting back what must have been a near-overwhelming urge to hide, Voight plays it as broad as the Rhine, with utterly implausible accent, mock Stasi regalia, limp, and sneer. It's almost enough to distract you from all the spasmodically lip-synching toddlers.
The loving-parent roles in these family-first extravaganzas are always thankless, and here Vanessa Angel and (significant pause) Scott Baio got the nod. She's the empathetic one who believes children are smarter than they let on, he's the dim-witted grasper briefly in league with Kane. Neither is memorable. Reaching out to all the put-upon baby sitters in the world who will be forced to endlessly watch this movie, screenwriter Maher Maleh even throws in a 'tweener heroine. She and the standard-issue sensitive hunk meet cute in Kahuna's lair ("I'm Zach," "I'm confused") and not 10 minutes later, she's gotten the requisite miracle makeover and they're in a lip-lock. So much for empowerment.
To reduce the time adults spend gazing longingly at the exits, Clark attempts some higher-level cinematic communication along the way. There's what one can only hope is the last-ever "Matrix" tribute/theft, plus a mostly unfunny stew of references to the Three Stooges, Popeye, Mary Poppins, and even "Casablanca." The overall effect is ghoulish.
You could write a thesis, albeit a short and caustic one, about mainstream movies that cast corporations as baddies and preach free will, all while relentlessly pushing consumerism and being precisely what they pretend to condemn. One of the few things that doesn't get a logo in "Superbabies" is Kahuna's signature energy drink, perhaps because Gatorade wouldn't pay up. With its telltale color and bottle shape, why should they bother? The job's already done.
Leighton Klein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.