In King Lear, William Shakespeare has the exiled Edgar remind us that "the worst is not / So long as we can say 'this is the worst.'" Allow me to paraphrase that for our current situation: the worst is not, so long as we can say "Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 was only five years in the future."

But man oh man, that is the only standard by which 1999's Baby Geniuses looks even the teeny-tiniest bit acceptable as a work of cinema, an object produced by human beings, or anything that a loving God would permit to exist.* Aesthetically and morally, I can hardly name a more viscerally repugnant family film from the 1990s, though the decade's direct-to-video children's cinema is a malarial bog into which I have thus far avoided sinking.

The film starts with a robust "what if?" - what if all human babies, prior to the acquisition of language, possessed all available knowledge and had the ability to communicate with every other human baby? The answer provided by the five writers - including the film's director Bob Clark, whose decline from his great highs in the 1970s and early '80s became irreversible here, I think - is that the babies would speak unusually well-formed, articulate jokes to each other about filling their diapers. And these are the ultra-smart laboratory babies being experimented on by Dr. Elena Kinder (Kathleen Turner) and Dr. Heep (Christopher Lloyd) in the underground bunker below the headquarters of BabyCo, the extraordinarily successful baby goods manufacturer that Kinder uses as the legitimate face of her insane experiments. What those experiments are meant to yield is a bit fuzzy - learning the baby language, I suppose, and thence learning the babies' secrets of the universe, but again, since we only hear them talking about things like shitting and eating, I think that Kinder would find it not worth the effort. Some geniuses.

The particulars of the story hinge on Sly and Whit (triplets Leo, Myles, and Gerry Fitzgerald), twins who were separated at birth by Kinder as part of a control group; we learn about this in a bit of exposition that is especially grueling, since it's not just the usual "hello, let me tell you something we both already know", but Heep specifically asking a computer to tell him things he already knows. Sly is the smartest of all the baby geniuses, while Whit lives with Kinder's niece, Robin (Kim Cattrall) and her husband, Dan (Peter MacNicol), who run a daycare, I think. Dan also has been exploring the universal baby language in an amateur capacity, and has gotten farther along than Kinder with her high-tech facility, so that also makes it seem like Kinder's plan needed some more time in the oven. Anyway, Sly keeps escaping, and eventually manages to end up in the same mall as Whit; the two accidentally swap places, and the scene is set for Dan to learn all about Kinder's nefarious plots, whatever they are, specifically. It involves opening a theme park, but I think that's about funding the research, not controlling the world, or whatever.

The obscurity of the story notwithstanding, the horror of Baby Geniuses lies not in its asinine concept, but the repulsive execution of that concept. To make the babies talk, the filmmakers hit upon an elaborate new use of morphing technology: recording their infant stars babbling, collect as many mouth-shapes as possible, digitally stitching those shapes into words, and painting the completed mouth animation onto the children's faces. Basically a much more cumbersome, multi-step version of the "make LBJ talk" bit from Forrest Gump. It looks thoroughly horrible in most cases, and unlike in Superbabies, which shaped the dialogue around the baby actors' movements, here there's no real relationship between what we're hearing and what we're seeing, so the dialogue seems to be drifting in from somewhere far away from the world of the film.

This is the second uncanniest, most disgusting thing that the babies to. The most uncanny thing comes when Sly finds his way into a Baby Gap for a quick bit of product placement, and to put on some clothes. This results in a short dress-up montage - not so short that it can't fit in both Taco's "Puttin' on the Ritz" and the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" on the soundtrack - during which Sly is played by a CGI animated body with a photorealistic scan of the Fitzgerald brothers' head perched atop it; the body moves with boneless fluidity that matches nothing else that any character does anywhere in the film.

Speaking of Sly's quest for clothing: during this same part of the film, he crawls into a baby carriage to ask if he can have the clothes being worn by its occupant, a baby girl. She cracks a few jokes about how he hasn't even taken her to dinner yet, and as he leaves the carriage (now in her dress, she shouts after him "Call me". Whether this scene is enough to make Baby Geniuseses as repulsive as its sequel's decision to make its villain a carbon copy of Josef Mengele, I leave as an exercise for the reader.

At any rate, the film is plenty repulsive, and for more reasons than its sexual banter between toddlers. The endless array of garbage sitcom jokes emerging from the hideously-animated mouths of babes is part of it, of course; so are the dreadful comic side characters played by Dom DeLuise, Ruby Dee, and Kyle Howard, as well as the fact that Kathleen Turner is involved in this at all.

On top of all of this, it's also barbarically ugly, with cinematographer Stephen M. Katz overrelying on extreme wide angle lenses - at first this is just to make the villains look uglier, then it's to present a kind of baby's-eye-view distortion, and eventually it doesn't seem to serve any function at all; it's just something the film does, occasionally. As though the CGI baby wasn't horrible enough, so every other person needed to look horrible as well.

All of which is to say: Baby Geniuses is a revolting motion picture. Not just bad; it instills a sense of furious loathing in the viewer, a deep ontological wrongness that demands we reject the hideous talking baby-creatures as well as the plodding and meaningless narrative containing them. It's a move betting everything on us finding it "cute", only to offer a vision of "cuteness" simultaneously so dumb and grotesque as to be even worse than if it was tying to be cynical, or satiric, or I don't know what. It is not so bottomlessly vile as Superbabies, so I guess it has that going for it; but even if I probably wouldn't call it the single worst, most appalling film of the 1990s, it's certainly in the conversation.

*Of course, the two theatrical Baby Geniuses pictures are part of that most awesome and terrible of genres, movies that prove that God exists and He hates us.