1999's Baby Geniuses is complete garbage, shockingly misconceived as a concept, with horribly executed technique that plunges it into the darkest, mildewiest hollow of the Uncanny Valley. So imagine the horrors I have in store for us when I declare - and I mean it with the most utterly tranquil sincerity - that it didn't remotely deserve a sequel as astonishingly bad as 2004's Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. This is, and I am again speaking with an enlightened, ethereal calmness, allowing no room for outraged hyperbole, one of the vilest films of the 2000s, a so-bad-it's-utterly-unwatchable children's comedy that flags at every possible moment its profound contempt for and disinterest in children and its insulting, pandering notion of what is "comic". There are certain films that I truly believe diminish the dignity of cinema as a medium, and humanity as a race, and if "what if infamous Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele was a bumbling, wacky bad guy in an unintelligible fantasy about crime-fighting toddlers" doesn't cross that threshold, than I just don't know what might.

Baby Geniuses, if you have had the good fortune and wisdom to never have seen it, is predicated on the idea that, prior to the acquisition of language, all human babies can communicate with each other, and also have access to levels of scientific and philosophical knowledge that only the most expert human adults can match. Superbabies (which only explicitly references its predecessor in a single line of dialogue) drops the second half of that equation: its babies are fairly ordinary, intelligent at about the level of an 8- or 9-year-old, which I presume is where this film imagines its target audience to be. Though it does seem that "who the fuck was this for?" is a question that Superbabies hasn't thought about nearly hard enough.

The initially non-super babies are a set of four toddlers, all played by twins: Archie (Max & Michael Iles, voiced by Danny McKinnon), Rosita (Maia & Keana Bastidas, voiced by Melissa Montoya), Finkleman (Jared & Jordan Scheiderman, voiced by Jonathan Singleton), and Alex (Joshua & Maxwell Lockhart, voiced by Rashad Hood). They're all whiling away their time at the daycare center owned by Archie's parents, Stan (Scott Baio) and Jean Bobbins (Vanessa Angel), who are working on developing it into a chain of daycare centers, which feels like in almost any other film, would set them up to be the villain. Instead, they're merely the useful idiots for the villain, a TV mogul named Bill Biscane (John Voight). Or so he claims! In fact, we've already met Biscane thanks to part of the powerful baby mythology that Archie tells to the other kids, returning them to the once-upon-a-time of East Berlin, 1962. By God, the moment those words come out of his mouth, the shudder of agony upon realising what the hell Superbabies is about to do to us! Making the villain a generic mad scientist would quite suffice, but situating him within the very particular politics of Cold War Germany is insanely deranged. Anyway, this is where we meet Biscane under his real name, Kane, where he operates an orphanage and does God knows what horrible things to the innocents there. This is why he's stopped by his archnemesis Kahuna (Gerry, Leo, & Miles Fitzgerald, voiced by David Kaye - the Fitzgeralds were old enough that they didn't need to split the role, but I imagine it was a nod to the fact that the three of them collectively played twins in the first Baby Geniuses), an ageless genius who stopped growing up at around eight years old because of a secret serum, and now uses his unmatched skills and Bondian technological whiz-bang to save the babies of the world from ex-Nazi genetic experimentation.

And he's still around! He shows up in the Bobbinses' house to stop Biscane from whatever nefarious plot he's cooked up this time, first appearing by crawling across the ceiling, presumably using spy tech, but it looks like something horrifying and uncanny, like something out of The Exorcist or Trainspotting. A few minutes later, when we see Kahuna fighting a full-grown man, the visual effects attempting to show how a child could toss around an adult like a ragdoll is even more uncanny. But that's where Superbabies has been living all along. The talking-baby effect used by the film, as in its predecessor, involves digitally stitching together mouth positions that have been recorded separately, as the toddler actors were babbling, and then gluing them onto the children's faces. It almost works, like when you're watching a film where the audio is off-synch by like three frames - enough that you're definitely seeing it, but not quite enough that you're sure that you're seeing it. On top of this, there has been some attempt made to match the dialogue being Frankensteined in with the body language of the babies, which results in a lot of forced, disconnected passages where it feels like the four leads exist in some existential vacuum, interacting with nothing but the howling madness of the void. The Fitzgeralds were at least old enough to actually act, and to speak lines that were then overdubbed, so Kahuna - and don't think that, just because I haven't stopped yet to draw attention to it means that I don't realise what a deranged, bad name that is - at least feels like a plausible human. The four babies are terrifying, too articulate for the aimless "kids meandering around poking at things" vibe of their scenes to fit.

Anyway, Biscane has evolved from being Mengele (a choice Voight commits to horribly hard, with a big thick accent that the film has to explain in a wildly dumb throwaway line in a flashback, once we learn that he's actually American) to being Rupert Murdoch, the ruler of a vast television empire. But not vast enough, and like Ignatius Loyola, he has decided that to get what he wants, he must start with the child: his new venture is a channel of kids programming that uses subliminal electronic codes (represented on a monitor by what is obviously the Matrix "green rain" effect, tinted red) to program children to never want to go outside, but just sit in front of the television always, for the rest of their lives, buying the products he wants them to buy, and thinking the thoughts he wants them to think. If nothing else, this suggests Biscane's endearing level of innocence, that he imagines that in the year 2004, he would have to use mad science to achieve this goal.

Kahuna and the babies, along with Archer's teen cousin Kylie (Skyler Shaye) as well as Kahuna's teen human aide-de-camp Zack (Justin Chatwin - I would love to imagine that Steven Spielberg was watching this film when he decided to cast the actor in War of the Worlds, but tragically the dates don't work out), retreat to Kahuna's ludicrous Willy Wonka playground of a spy lab to work out a plan. One of the many things that hasn't been thought through is that Kahuna is a man in his late 60s or 70s, with an adult's lifetime of emotional and intellectual development. Yet it still acts like he's fundamentally just a little kid, who happens to have apparently unlimited financial resources. He also flirts with Rosita, which is creepy thing to put into the movie even if he's not a senior citizen. Anyway, one of Kahuna's many magic devices is a "become your true heart's desire" machine, and this is how the four toddlers are able to transform into the superbabies, with somewhat nebulous and impractical superpowers (being smart! being able to bounce!) that will, no doubt, be of use in fighting the villains. So the film gets to wedge itself into the flowering supehero genre on top of the evergreen "kids' comedies about Nazi atrocities" genre. Oh, and also at one point Kylie is given a makeover by Rosita and Finkleman (who announces "I'm in touch with my feminine side", in one of many lines of dialogue that should have gotten screenwriter Gregory Poppen thrown in prison), so that Zack can gawk at her with open lust. You know, for kids.

The point being, I don't know who Superbabies is meant to be for. The comedy (including the expected assortment of poop jokes) is pitched at children, the teen romance subplot is aimed for tweens at least a few years older, and the media satire cannot possibly be aimed at either. The explicit message "go outside and play" fits okay with the general vibe of the humor, but the much stronger implicit message about how toddlers should behave cannot possibly be meant for an audience old enough to actually watch this or any other movie. The East Berlin eugenicist I can't even talk about.

The film is unpleasant in a way that's simply unrelenting. Like Baby Geniuses before it, it spends so much time show its babies talking and thinking like adults as to feel completely repulsive at a bone-deep level; we are, as a species, fine-tuned to react to baby behavior, and this isn't it. No CGI'd adult could feel so quietly horrifying. But Superbabies is even worse, for it has such grander narrative ambitions than its predecessor, and it so quickly reaches the hard limit of how well it can hope to realise those ambitions, and so we get not merely uncanny effects work, but cheap effects work besides, not to mention sets that look like the producer's living room and backyard, with Biscane's great unveiling of his new media empire staged in what looks exceedingly like the driveway into a public park.

Horrifyingly, this was the last film directed by Bob Clark prior to his untimely death in 2007, who in happier times created good horror films (such as 1972's Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things), good Christmas films (such as 1983's A Christmas Story), or both (such as 1974's Black Christmas). He also directed Baby Geniuses, with what I would have called a minimum of effort, except that Superbabies goes even deeper into pure, abject misery and self-hatred, visually listless and so indifferent to building any sort of rhythm that scenes are jammed together to make it quite impossible to tell how their related in time and space, while even at a mere 88 minutes long, the film drags by horribly. I suppose it's unlikely that time spent watching these otherworldly baby-creatures would ever go by quickly, but the stretched-out, pokey way that scenes are built and then lined up next to each other invites us as much time as we want to gape at them. Or not want, as the case may be.