New Spielberg film is entertaining, in a nerve-bending sort of way

True to its title, ``The Goonies'' is childish even by Steven Spielberg's high standard. I don't mean childlike, either. This is the real thing, mixing fat-kid jokes and bathroom humor with pirate fantasies and monster scenes -- a sort of ``Indiana Jones Meets the Three Stooges.''

Yet you have to give credit. Not just anyone could have organized so much noise and chaos into something like a real movie. The screenplay is an overstuffed muddle of yammering kids and grotesque grownups. Spielberg and company yank it into shape and give it roller-coaster momentum -- not by taming the material, but by boosting its energy to the highest, shrillest pitch they can muster. The result is loud, vulgar, obvious. And entertaining, in a nerve-bending sort of way.

The Goonies are a small gang of kids whose neighborhood, in the Pacific Northwest, is about to be demolished for a country club. Poking around a musty attic, they stumble on a map drawn by One-Eyed Willie, a long-ago buccaneer. A few hyperactive scenes later, they're in a murky labyrinth -- lured ahead by Willie's buried treasure, chased from behind by a trio of crazy crooks.

The picture's loony flavor comes partly from this plot, which revels in its own clich'es. We're in a world where kids say, ``Nothing ever happens around here'' before tumbling into high adventures, where thunder crashes at ominous moments, where the scariest bad guy is really the sweetest, where parents rarely show up and children are wiser, anyway.

But more important than the story is the manic approach of the filmmakers in splashing it across the screen. Shots last a few seconds at most. The editing spews images at a rapid-fire pace that never lets up. Floors cave in, boulders crash from the ceiling, bats and skeletons leap from the shadows. And to make sure we're bombarded into a cinematic stupor, the sound track is even more crowded -- a babbling barrage of wisecracks, one-liners, shrieks, and screams, with an occasional speech (three or four sentences in a row!) and a smidgen of real dialogue. And music, of course, to fill any split-second of inadvertent silence.

How does all this stack up against Spielberg hits like ``E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial'' and the Indiana Jones pictures? Less involving than the former, more likable than the latter -- and free of the rampant racism that ruined the ``Temple of Doom'' fiasco, although ``The Goonies'' has its own problems of sensitivity and taste. In temperament and technique, Spielberg is a master of splashy adolescent fare. Whether he's a master of anything else has yet to be proven by his towering but narrowly aimed career.

``The Goonies'' was directed by Richard Donner -- the maker of ``Superman'' and ``Ladyhawke,'' but here programmed all the way by executive producer Spielberg, who concocted the story and ``presents'' the picture. The screenplay is by Chris Columbus, the writer of last summer's ``Gremlins,'' in which ``presenter'' Spielberg let things get a bit nastier than they do here. The music is by Dave Grusin, and Michael Kahn was the tireless editor.

And get to know the cast, since the Goonies are sure to enter the pop-culture pantheon that holds E.T. and the ``Star Wars'' androids. Jeff Cohen is my favorite as Chunk, one of those chubby boys who show up in every kid-style adventure. Other key members are Sean Astin as the shy Mikey; Corey Feldman as the smart-aleck Mouth; Ke Huy Quan as the brainy Data; and Kerri Green as the venturesome Andi. Adult standouts include Anne Ramsey as Mama Fratelli, a sort of Marjorie Main for the '80s; and John Matuszak as Sloth, an awfully ugly monster-character who may overwhelm young viewers before showing his gentle inner self.

The rating is PG, reflecting some anatomical humor, sex references, and the generally boisterous atmosphere.

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