Look Who’s Talking: The Undercover Kid (1996)

Dave hits up legendary Corman graduate Linda Shayne for the skinny on one of her mid-’90s family flicks.

A product of Roger Corman’s never-ending talent factory, Linda Shayne had the dexterity to move between acting (Sandy in Humanoids from the Deep (1980)), writing (she penned Screwballs (1983) with Jim Wynorski) and directing (Purple People Eater (1988)) in a relatively short period. By the time the ‘90s arrived, additional work opportunities started to emerge from elsewhere – and first up was a family film called THE UNDERCOVER KID (1996).

Nine year-old Max (Bradley Pierce) is a kid with a very special gift. He can talk to animals. Typically, none of the grown-ups believe him, not least his ex-State department employee parents (Nicolas Surovy and Susan Dolan). However, when Bo the dog catches wind of a plot to assassinate the President (Don Cosney) during a conversation in the park with a German shepherd, Max has his work cut out trying to save the Commander in Chief, while the sceptical adults look on in disbelief.

Developed from a story by Elise Pritcher, The Undercover Kid was written by Dennis Carr – his sole motion picture credit. Considering Shayne’s screenplay experience, you’d be justified in wondering if it was her hiding behind a pseudonym – a question the filmmaker is keen to clarify.

“No, I didn’t write it,” says Shayne. “I never met Elise Pritcher for that matter. I was brought on after the script was written by Dennis, and I don’t think I met him either. I don’t know if they were both local to Utah, which was where the movie was filmed and financed from. I just came in right at the start of pre-production, and we started casting out of Los Angeles and Utah.”

“Having said that, I did change one critical item in the film, because both leads were originally written as boys. Without changing the character’s name and without changing one line of dialogue, I switched one of the lead characters, named Buzzy, to a girl.”

It’s a tweak that worked, more so as it meant The Undercover Kid now boasted a welcome pair of strong females, with ass-kicking bodyguard, Agent Clydesdale (Melora Hardin), already part of its ensemble. It’s a cast that the film is heavily dependent on, too, because Shayne’s wholesome endeavour is certainly at the lower end of the budget scale. There are no animatronic pet movements, so the vocal talents of Robert Knepper and controversial right-winger Victoria Jackson [1] are needed to breathe some much-needed life into Bo and his feline companion Nellie.

Running at a brisk eighty-one minutes, The Undercover Kid is slight but engaging, and it sits comfortably in that pantheon of family fare where your folks wouldn’t be too reluctant to watch it either, thanks to its PG-friendly inoffensiveness. However, that’s an assertation that not everyone seemed to agree with…

“Well, the first release of The Undercover Kid was on Warner Home Video,” explains Shayne. “They had a limited amount of time and then the producers were able to license it to another Utah company that I mentioned before. They decided to switch the name to ‘How I Saved the President’, which was the original working name of the film, and they actually cut out a few shots from the original release. They snipped an establishing shot of the villain’s pool, which opens with a young woman in a modest one-piece bathing suit diving in. I thought the action and splash added a dramatic moment, but you can still see it in the original cut. I can’t remember what, it if any other scenes were deleted, but I definitely liked The Undercover Kid title and edit best.”

Indeed, shorn of a whopping six minutes, Undercover Kid‘s neutered ‘How I Saved the President’ cut surfaced on tape and DVD via Feature Films for Families; a strange and creepily puritanical outfit based in Salt Lake City who liked to drone on about how – per their marketing spiel – they were “strengthening traditional values through entertainment”. Naturally, they’ve since been blasted by federal regulators for dodgy telemarketing calls.

[1] After a successful period on Saturday Night Live in the ‘80s, Jackson became politically active in the mid-’00s, courting controversy with a slew of moronic proclamations like labelling Barack Obama an “Islamic Jihadist” and stating that homophobia is merely “a cute Liberal buzzword”.

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