Ratboy (1986) – By Jonathon Pernisek

 I had a moment while watching Ratboy where a very important question came to mind: Where in the world did this movie come from? To justify this film’s existence by saying it came during the ‘80s, a decade which was fraught with oddity at every turn, is too simple an explanation. Ratboy seems to have come out of another dimension, a reality totally separate from the one we as mankind have ever known. It’s a fascinating movie to stew over, but thoroughly depressing to actually watch.

Even now I’m sure you as an astute reader have begun to construct a plot around this film’s title. Yes, good reader, this is indeed the tale of a boy who is part rodent and part human, whose interactions with society prove to be complicated and ultimately miserable. He is discovered and kidnapped by two seedy hoboes who plan to sell him to the media for mucho greenbacks, but is soon swiped by the shrewd Nikki Morrison and her bumbling brothers (one of which is played by Louie Anderson…go figure). Like the hoboes, Nikki plots to use Ratboy to attain fame and fortune, but rather than keep him in a cage she uses her feminine wiles to keep the creature on a romantic string.

Nikki’s plan, which just drips with that Ronald Reagan-era love of materialism, is to simply put Ratboy before the public and watch the money roll in like gangbusters. When marketing executives, talent scouts, and agents ask just how Ratboy can be sold as an image, her mind goes blank. She just assumes a rat-child will be a sensation, prompting the creation of Ratboy T-shirts, movies, and commercials. To put it bluntly, Nikki is an idiot. She’s cruel, money-grubbing, and downright despicable. And she’s supposed to be one of the better characters!

All the while Ratboy is desperately trying to learn about the world around him, screeching out barely audible sentences while being manipulated, mocked, and harmed by everyone he meets. And I do mean everyone. There isn’t one character in this whole movie who could claim to have a soul. Nikki and her brothers are too busy schmoozing at Hollywood-style parties to even notice their discovery, a boozehound/pimp pretends to be his friend in order to jump on the bandwagon, and sneering extras try to shove alcohol down his throat while making fun of him at every turn.

Make no mistake, this kind of premise is the stuff of nightmares, and Ratboy is exceedingly dark from the outset. I’ve never seen a film so determined to make the human race seem completely without merit, a movie populated by people so callous and deplorable you want to lock them up for life. There’s a sequence at a party where Ratboy becomes disoriented from the aforementioned alcohol, and the room spins in a hallucinogenic manner as drunken laughter and distorted faces fly across the screen. I’ll ask this again: Who made this film? Who wants me to be this depressed?

Then, just as the movie couldn’t get any filthier or more disgusting, we get a happy ending in the last two minutes. Swear to God. Ratboy is believed to be dead, but Nikki learns with ecstasy that no, her furry little friend has escaped the confines of humanity and is running to the country to be free. Cue the opening chords of a poppy tune as our hero runs into the sunset. What? Huh? Did anyone really expect me to buy such a schmaltzy conclusion to a film without one note of optimism during its whole run time? Give me a break people! At least show me some respect and stick to your through line. What’s most insulting about this finale is how it tried to sell me on the idea of how Nikki had “changed,” how she had gone from being a materialistic wench to someone who has learned a lesson about acceptance and love. Blech.

By not sticking to its through line and tacking on a cutsey-wootsey ending, Ratboy made me feel I had wasted my time. As a whole it is nothing more than a strange example of filmmaking and storytelling, with thinly written characters played by barrel-scraping actors who move through a wafer thin plot. I apologize if this sounds like a complicated perspective, but I can’t help but feel of two minds. Like a lot of movies in my collection, Ratboy is just weird and dumb enough to reserve a permanent seat, but not nearly entertaining enough to warrant a second look.