Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Paul Flaherty|
|Produced by||Larry Brezner
Pieter Jan Brugge
|Written by||Jay Dee Rock &
Bobby Von Hayes
|Narrated by||Martin Short|
|Music by||Richard Gibbs|
|Cinematography||John A. Alonzo|
|Editing by||Tim Board
Pembroke J. Herring
|Distributed by||Orion Pictures|
|Release dates||April 1, 1994 (USA)|
|Running time||90 min.|
|Box office||$7,411,659 (USA)|
The film was shot in 1990 and originally planned for release in the summer of 1991, but remained in limbo for several years due to Orion Pictures' bleak financial situation. It wasn't released until 1994.
At a Catholic school in 2050, a troublesome boy named Roger is running away after threatening to blow up the gym when his parents won't allow him to play on the basketball team. He's stopped by Father Clifford Daniels (Martin Short), an elderly priest, who tries to persuade him to change his ways by telling him a story of his own youth.
Flashing back to the present-day (1982), the 10-year-old Clifford (also Martin Short) is a deceptive, evil, weird-looking boy who loves dinosaurs and desires to visit Dinosaur World, a theme park located in California. He also has a small toy dinosaur he is never without, whom he calls "Stephan." He talks to "Stephan" constantly and blames him for any results of his own bad behavior.
While flying with his parents to Honolulu, Clifford stops the plane's engines, forcing it to make an emergency landing in Los Angeles. His father, Julien, scolds Clifford because his son is banned from the flight, though Julien has an important engagement to attend.
From the airport, Julien phones his twin brother Martin (Charles Grodin), who resides in Los Angeles, to propose the idea of Clifford staying with him for a while. Martin thinks that this could be the perfect opportunity to prove to his fiancée, Sarah Davis (Mary Steenburgen), how well he interacts with children, especially his nephew whom he hasn't seen since he was baptized. Little does he know that a calculating monster hides behind Clifford's innocent smile.
Upon their reunion, Martin reveals to Clifford that he designed Larry the Scary Rex (a Dinosaur World attraction) and is able to get into the park free of charge. This only strengthens Clifford's obsession to visit the theme park. Martin promises to take him there, but is ultimately forced to back out because his boss, Mr. Ellis (Dabney Coleman), wants Martin to redesign new plans for the transportation system of Los Angeles in only two days. This enrages Clifford, who embarks on a path of destruction and sabotage. While Martin buys chocolate at a convenience store for Clifford, Clifford notices a family going to Dinosaur World and sees a boy named Kevin in a dinosaur costume heading to the restroom. Clifford buys the dinosaur costume and also gives Kevin his own clothes. Clifford then gets into Kevin's family's van wearing the dinosaur costume and hoping no one will notice. But Martin finds Kevin wearing Clifford's clothes in the restroom, and finds Clifford in the van, causing Kevin's mother to think that Martin assaulted Kevin. But Kevin comes out of the restroom, proving that Martin was telling the truth about Kevin. After this, Martin scolds Clifford and refuses to take him to Dinosaur World, ever.
Clifford turns his uncle's life upside down, jeopardizing Martin's relationship with Sarah as well as his job. Among other things, he compliments Mr. Ellis about his toupee to his face and causes Martin to be humiliated at Sarah's parents' 35th wedding anniversary party by replacing his Bloody Mary with straight Tabasco sauce. Clifford manages to get Martin to do an unprepared toast, which turns into a disaster after Martin drinks the Tabasco and then tries to soothe his mouth by drinking straight out of the punch bowl in front of Sarah's family. Clifford causes further embarrassment by replacing Martin's ChapStick with lipstick, and tops it off by getting him arrested in front of Sarah's family after calling in a fake bomb threat by editing Martin's punishment to Clifford, causing Martin to have a criminal record. To add further punishment for Martin's reneging on his promise, Clifford tricks him into boarding a train to San Francisco, throws a party in Martin's house while he is in San Francisco, and destroys all of his work by planting a bomb in a presentation during a press conference, which causes him to be fired from the architectural firm at which he worked. Sarah believes that Martin is not able to watch Clifford, and takes Clifford home with her after she has found that Martin has locked him in his room, nailing the door and windows shut.
With his life in ruins as a result of Clifford's destructive behavior, Martin's sanity snaps. Martin drives to Sarah's house and abducts Clifford, putting his nephew in a straitjacket. Martin finally takes Clifford to Dinosaur World, after hours, to make him ride the Larry the Scary Rex ride until he can no longer take it. After going through it once, Clifford seems to enjoy himself, so Martin ups the ride's speed again and again, to the point where, he says, he puts it on "hyperdrive." The ride malfunctions and Clifford's cart crashes, leaving him dangling above the jaws of a robotic dinosaur.
Clifford cries out for Martin to save him. Martin hesitates because he worries about what could happen in the future of mankind if he saves Clifford's life. He does the right thing and risks his own life to save Clifford, and the two escape just before everything collapses. Clifford finally apologizes for his behavior, but Martin is fed up. He tells Clifford that he is a destructive thing, not a human. Clifford, who was upset, decides not to go home with Martin.
We momentarily return to the future when Father Clifford says that this experience made him turn his life around. He wrote hundreds of letters asking his uncle's forgiveness, to little avail. But later on, Sarah gave him "the bestest request in the whole wide world," inviting him to Martin's and Sarah's wedding, which meant that he had finally forgiven Clifford.
Roger decides to not run away and to write hundreds of letters, asking for forgiveness. Father Clifford then takes out "Stephan," saying, "Mission accomplished, old friend."
- Martin Short as Young Clifford Daniels/Father Clifford Daniels
- Charles Grodin as Martin Daniels
- Mary Steenburgen as Sarah Davis
- Dabney Coleman as Gerald Ellis
- Richard Kind as Julien Daniels
- Jennifer Savidge as Theodora Daniels
- Ben Savage as Roger
- Don Galloway as Captain
- Tim Lane as Navigator
- Timothy Stack as Kevin's Father
- Marianne Muellerleile as Kevin's Mother
- G.D. Spradlin as Parker Davis
- Anne Jeffreys as Annabelle Davis
- Richard Fancy as Detective
The film was critically panned. It currently holds a 9% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 22 reviews (20 negative, 2 positive). Roger Ebert gave the film a half-star of a possible four. He wrote: "The movie is so odd, it's almost worth seeing just because we'll never see anything like it again. I hope."
Like other films which were released by Orion Pictures several years after they had surpassed their bankruptcy period, Clifford failed to make a profit at the box office in addition to being critically panned. Its domestic gross was only a mere $7 million at the domestic box office.