I’ll be honest and specify that I’ve never seen the 1971 nor its sequel “Ben,” but I have a feeling that this version is a composite of both movies. Perhaps that would explain why the first half goes along at a nice, crisp pace, not wasting too much time on superfluous details and mostly getting right down to the business of establishing its own distinctly campy atmosphere, before things start happening way too fast in the second half. The way the plot suddenly goes into hyperdrive after the comfortable flow of the first half is actually a bit jarring, with major plot points happening so quickly that it feels like there’s probably an entire movie’s worth of deleted scenes left on the cutting room floor. In particular, it’s a shame because that tonal disconnect not only dissipates the audience’s good will, but it also ends up wasting three terrific performances: R. Lee Ermey is delightfully over-the-top as Willard’s antagonist, Jackie Burroughs is a grim delight as his cantankerous, grotesquely emotionally abusive mother, and Crispin Glover himself is just absolutely perfect in the lead. His particular brand of all-American ’50s movie-star looks has never been more thrillingly at odds with his off-kilter sensibilities than here, and it allows him to tower over the proceedings. So in the end, I would absolutely love to see an extended version (if such a thing exists) because I suspect it would smooth out this official version’s structural hiccups, but as it is, it’s a flawed-but-effective-enough curiosity watch.
Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)