July 4, 2018 | by Jocelyn Hoppa
Within the first 20 minutes of the original Adventures in Babysitting, a piece of supposedly teen fluff released on July 4, 1987, 15-year-old, chocolate-loving Brad Anderson calls his 8-year-old, Thor-loving sister’s hero a homo… and there’s a rape joke. Our modern collective mind swirls. You couldn’t make that kind of movie today. (The shitty tween Disney reboot says it all.)
And yet, Adventures in Babysitting is an American comedy/action film where Chicago white affluence meets the underbelly of inner-city scary people. And though stereotypes abound, the message when all is said and done is simple: There are good people and bad people regardless of cultural categorization.
The soundtrack is predominantly R&B, blues, and Brill Building, with a few rock tracks thrown in the mix. Opening scene features Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) getting ready for a fancy anniversary dinner with her supposed high school boyfriend Mike (Bradley Whitford) who looks to be at least 35 years of age here.
Complete with awkward, choreographed flourishes, Chris dances around her room to The Crystals classic, “Then He Kissed Me.”
Then Mike shows up, feeds her some bullshit about a sick little brother, cancels, and also denies her kiss. To add insult to injury, Chris ends up having to babysit the Anderson kids, who are played by Keith Coogan and Maia Brewton respectively.
While at the Andersons, Chris gets a call from her distressed friend Brenda. She ran away from home and stupidly spent all of her money taking a cab to a downtown bus station, where the perils of urban insanity are on full display. She tells Chris she’s already seen three people shoot up, a bald Chinese lady with no pants on, and an old guy who wants his bedroom slippers back. The camera pans down to a pair of dirty slippers next to a bag with a can of Spam in it. The old bum keeps yelling at her from outside the phone booth, “Get out of my house!!!”
The kids convince Chris they have to go with her to pick Brenda up, and as they’re walking to the car Brad’s friend Daryl Coppersmith (Anthony Rapp) pops out from the bushes asking where everyone is going. With the fearsome foursome established, we’re off to the big, bad city.
Aside from the music, the brilliant storytelling thread running throughout this movie is an issue of Playboy Magazine that features a spread of a woman who looks almost exactly like Chris. Daryl brought along his father’s copy of the magazine, which Brad tosses out the window of the moving car. Later, when they are all trapped at the auto chop shop, Daryl steals a copy of the magazine sitting there, which happens to contain handwritten notes of incriminating details regarding a Philadelphia delivery.
The babysitter and the kids do some high-wire shit to get away, and a chase to capture them and retrieve the magazine ensues.
On the run, the foursome duck into a blues nightclub and accidentally end up on stage as the entire place stops in the tracks of these out-of-place white kids. As the foursome attempt to sheepishly back off the stage, real deal bluesman Albert Collins tells them nobody leaves this place without singing the blues.
Chris, the kids, and the house band give the audience an impromptu “Babysitter Blues” that rouses the audience to their feet.
Mixed amongst tracks like Junior Walker’s “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)?,” Koko Taylor’s “Evil (Is Going On),” Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me,” and Nora Jones’ “Fly Away,” is The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” I’m willing to bet decent money this was the first usage of the song in film (certainly not before the documentary of the same name, but definitely before Martin Scorsese and so many others had their way with it).
Director Chris Columbus had this to say about including “Gimme Shelter” (from the book Hollywood Shack Job: Rock Music in Film and on Your Screen):
“To get to the bars in Chicago you had to go through Lower Wacker Drive, which at the time was a smokey tunnel underground through Chicago lit by green light. It was a surreal place and I was obsessed with putting ‘Gimme Shelter’ in Adventures in Babysitting. When the kids descend into the bowels of Lower Wacker Drive, what better song than ‘Gimme Shelter’? What is more haunting? Like you’re stepping into another world.”
There’s also Iggy Pop’s “Real Wild Child,” which was used in the original trailer:
For a late-80s summer blockbuster, Adventures in Babysitting really has it all.
The villains are a crime boss and a cheating boyfriend, and the heroes who help save the day (be them simply reluctant or unlikely) include a bunch of otherwise pampered suburban kids, a car thief, a love-scorned, gun-toting truck driver with a hook for a hand, and a unempathetic mechanic who is won over by an 8 year old in a Thor helmet. Both comedic and action-packed, the film is carried along by a soundtrack that's like flipping through a rock ‘n’ roll fan’s personal record collection.
The fact that Elisabeth Shue falls for budding '80s heartthrob George Newbern as the obligatory though short-lived love subplot is really just icing on the Fourth of July cake.