Fourteen-year-old Jodie Foster had a very busy and very weird year in 1976. There was Freaky Friday for Disney, there was Taxi Driver for Scorsese, and then there was this. Thirty years after its release, Bugsy Malone, an adult gangster comedy/musical in which all the roles are played by children, can make you nostalgic for the '70s and the '30s at the same time. That this oddity was directed by Alan "Midnight Express" Parker, only makes the whole thing more bizarre. Watching the always amazing Jodie vamp it up with her co-star, '70s teen dreamboat Scott Baio, as they lip sync to tracks of the adults who sing for them is one of the stranger cinematic experiences you'll ever have. Forgive me if I pause a moment to go look up more synonyms for "weird."
Basically a story of warring gangs, Bugsy Malone introduces us to Fat Sam (John Cassisi) and Dandy Dan (Martin Lev), who are battling for turf. Bugsy (Baio) shows up at Sam's bar and meets Blousey Brown (Florrie Duggal), who wants to be a star. When the bar is raided, Dandy Dan breaks out his new weapon, a "Splurge gun" that shoots whipped cream. Bugsy and Blousey hit it off, but he's also caught the eye of sexy vamp Talullah (Foster), who always gets her man. Do you care?
With a dozen songs by short-limbed '70s pop music go-to guy Paul Williams, most of which are utterly forgettable drivel that even the Carpenters or the Captain and Tennille couldn't have salvaged, the movie goes along in its own insane way, alternating between boring stretches, the dubbed songs, and Splurge gun fights that leave all the kid gangsters covered with goo. One wonders how all the middle school students who use this story as a basis for their annual school play finesse those gunfight scenes.
If there's any winner here it's Foster, who does what she can with the material, playing the tough girl just as she did for Scorsese (and just as she still does today). There's little else here that delivers even the bare minimum for a musical or a comedy. Your kiddies may find it fun to watch other kiddies playing dress up, but you'll just be scratching your head in amazement as you ponder the fact that Baio, not Foster, was supposed to be the breakout star of this show.
Why doncha come up and see me some time. We'll watch Teletubbies.