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THE TITLE: "Kindergarten Cop."

The "high concept": Arnold Schwarzenegger as an undercover cop teaching kindergarten. ("High concept," you remember, was the mid-'80s term for a movie notion so simple it could be explained in five words or less to a film executive who can think only in bottom lines.)

The result: $100 million-plus in box office, without even the faintest twitch of a creative muscle.

Without question, it's going to happen, too, as sure as "God made little green apples and it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime." (Thank you, Roger Miller, wherever you are.)

Just as "Twins," the previous Schwarzenegger/Ivan Reitman movie, couldn't fail, neither can "Kindergarten Cop."

All you needed with "Twins" was any film comedy at all attached to the idea of Schwarzenegger and Danny De Vito as long-lost twin brothers, and you could open your own chain of banks.

What might have happened with "Kindergarten Cop" is something even grander and more lovable -- a truly irresistible film confection that turned into a demographic minesweeper and the box office phenomenon of the year. What might have happened was a good movie and killer box office, too.

All of this palaver about money and demographics is hopelessly vulgar and unseemly, no doubt, but there is sometimes no point in not ceding to professional show business what properly belongs to professional show business. A cunningly conceived product is no less cunningly conceived for being a product.

The people, for instance, who concocted and enacted "Pretty Woman" were so professional at what they did that they took America by storm -- an achievement easy to take too lightly.

The newspaper ads understand what could have been so good about "Kindergarten Cop." It's too bad the movie doesn't.

What's intrinsically funny is this: All the physical bulk in the world is defenseless against the energetic chaos of those whom one is prohibited from using that bulk against. Take a walking, talking mound of Austrian protein like Schwarzenegger and he's simply no match for 20 6-year-olds.

Unless you're a bully or a degenerate, brute force is useless against those without defenses.

A kindergarten teacher terrorized by children is really being terrorized from within: immobilized by the biological need to protect and nurture. That's the image in the newspaper ad -- Schwarzenegger being run ragged by kiddies -- and it tells you what the film should have been.

There's a lot of that in "Kindergarten Cop," but not nearly enough.

It should have been (as a colleague suggested, sight unseen) less cop, more kindergarten. As it is, it's a wee bit too much of a cop movie to be exposed to the audience in the movie's title.

Fantasy violence of Spielbergian stripe is one thing; a final vicious shootout and the protracted terrorization of a small boy in an elementary school is something else entirely. (It's hard to tell small children that everything in a movie is "all made up" when they see school halls and classrooms exactly like those they see every day.)

It opens in a shopping mall. (Are these people canny or what?) Arnold, in shades, olive-drab duster and three-day beard, is stalking a drug-dealing degenerate (Richard Tyson) who kills an informant and then hides out with his mother (Carroll Baker) at the beauty parlor.

Mom is more than a bit of a Spider Woman, which makes them one of the nastiest twosomes since Grendel and his mother in "Beowulf." Together, they're seeking his long-lost young son, who has been taken to parts unknown by his mother.

Arnold goes undercover with a fellow cop (Pamela Reed) who's supposed to pretend to be a teacher. When she gets a heaving stomach virus, he takes over as the school's new kindergarten teacher. "They're 6-year-olds," he says. "How much trouble can they be?"

Heaven knows, "Kindergarten Cop" has its moments: the look on the kids' faces when they see Man Mountain Arnold for the first time; his first attempts at gaining order as if he were the commandant of Stalag 17; his rendition of "Old MacDonald" with straw hat and ukulele for their edification.

Many predictable complications and confections ensue. This is a mass product, after all -- a charming one, but still in all a product, rather than the kind of thing we once used to think of as "movies."

Kindergarten Cop

Rating: 1/2
Arnold Schwarzenegger as an undercover cop teaching kindergarten. With Pamela Reed and Penelope Ann Miller. Directed by Ivan Reitman.

Rated PG-13, opening Friday in area theaters.

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