I imagine that Way Down Cellar is something of a failure since I was more interested in how Beans and Skeeter’s hapless flag football team, the Jets, finished up the season than I was in the intrigue surrounding the crabby old man who was staying in the old Burton House (the same house is also seen in For the Love of Willadean) and doing mysterious things down in the basement. It’s especially difficult to work up any enthusiasm for a bunch of crooks who get outsmarted by a couple of kids that can’t even manage to execute a simple running play during the game they get shut out of in the opening moments of the film.
Way Down Cellar‘s real problem is too much of a good thing. It’s always a good thing when a couple of snoopy kids are prowling around hidden tunnels, falling through trap doors, and discovering secrets that they have to contend with on their own. In this case though, when the kids go lollygagging around in the hidden tunnel that connects an old burnt out church to the Burton House for about the fourth time, you realize that nothing else of any interest is going to take place.
The legend goes that some guy in the Revolutionary War inhabited the house and was an anti-British tax protester. Whenever the British troops tried to capture him in his house, he could never be found as he was using the tunnel from his basement to the church that used to stand down the road from his house.
Skeeter discover the entrance to the tunnel while practicing football in the vacant lot between the house and remains of the church. This first trip ends rapidly when the boys decide they need to come back with flashlights to better explore their surroundings.
More importantly than that though is that it just isn’t Skeeter and Beans anymore. There’s also the new boy in town, Frankie, who is in on all this. Frankie is a valuable addition to the group, not because of all his experience tomb raiding, but because he was the all-star quarterback for his old undefeated football team in the town he came from!
Does this mean that the Jets will actually have a chance to defeat their unbeaten rivals, the Nikes? Will the stubborn and talentless Skeeter allow Frankie to showcase his talents? Will Frankie’s professor dad who was first string in college football get a chance to help out the crappy head coach of the Jets? Oh, and will the kids be able to break up that ring of counterfeiters that just moved into the neighborhood? Who cares, so long as they don’t miss the team bus!
For their part, the counterfeiters turn out to be the criminal equivalent of the Jets as they do everything in their power to draw attention to themselves and antagonize the kids into snooping around. First of all, the crabby old man, Ethan Marcus, keeps the footballs that come into his yard when the kids are practicing. Then he has one of his crook associates go over to tell the kids to play elsewhere even though they are only playing on a vacant lot near the old man’s property, thus ensuring that the kids will never leave.
Perhaps the most idiotic thing Marcus does is demand that the local cop do something about a break in at his garage which resulted in the footballs being taken. This only results in the local cop coming around and noting that there is no possible way for anyone to have broken into the garage. Luckily for Marcus the cop is more interested in fly fishing and drinking malts than being suspicious of the surly newcomers to his jurisdiction.
By the time the kids and the counterfeiters are in open warfare with one another, you know exactly how it will all play out. The crooks are inept, the kids cause one to fall down the steps of the cellar, and then cause the remaining bad guys to crash their car by spraying the windshield of the car with a garden hose. Perhaps they should have traded their blonde moll for a good getaway driver.
The kids and townspeople naturally share a good laugh about it all as the kids demand a reward of $1000 and the cop says that he’ll speak with the town council about buying the Jets new uniforms instead.
Entirely forgettable and bordering on tedious since nothing entertaining happens in the tunnel beyond the kids spying on the crooks. There’s no treasure, no Revolutionary War artifacts, no skeletons or any spooky goings on.
It’s quite a bland adventure that only generates suspense because when the crooks aren’t acting stupid, the kids pick up the slack by making all sorts of noise, alerting the bad guys to their presence by using flashlights indiscriminately and most incredibly, letting their dog, who always barks at the most inopportune time, tag along! Even Frankie’s Heisman Trophy performance in the big game against the Nikes can’t keep Way Down Cellar from being deservedly left in some forgotten dusty corner of Walt Disney‘s basement.
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