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The Kid

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Kid

Starring: Bruce Willis, Spencer Breslin
Director: John Turtletaub
Rated: PG
RunTime: 101 Minutes
Release Date: July 2000
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Nick Chinlund, Lily Tomlin, Emily Mortimer, Jean Smart, Steve Tom, Chi McBride, Richard Jenkins, Jeri Ryan

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

While watching this family movie, I couldn't help thinking of a friend I have--call him Fred. Fred teaches social studies in junior high school and hates himself. Not that teaching in a public school should be considered demeaning, but this guy graduated with honors from Columbia University. A reunion was coming up back in 1971, so I asked him whether he was excited. "I'm not going," he said with a grimace. "I can see myself re-introducing myself to my old classmates. Two guys are surgeons, one's a Wall Street tycoon, another is an adviser to the governor." Yeah, so? I asked. "So they'll ask me what I do, and I'll say I teach history at JHS 224 in Brooklyn. And do you know what they'll say? They'll say, 'Hey, Fred, you always were good for a few jokes. Now tell us: what do you really do?'"

Fred was indeed always good for a laugh and he told the story in a joking way, but I could see underneath his bonhomie was a sad man indeed. When he enrolled in this privileged, Ivy League institution, he wanted to be a doctor like his father, and take over the old man's Manhattan Beach (Brooklyn) practice. But he just couldn't cut the mustard. Quite a few of us are like Fred, I'll bet...we dreamed first of being firemen and cops, but then by the time high school and college rolled around, we had more lofty ambitions--doctor, lawyer, pilot, CEO. Somehow, something didn't turn out right and by the time we're forty years old we figure, that's it, this is what I'll be doing until I retire...teacher, middle management, freelance consultant.

Jon Turteltaub's "Disney's The Kid" may be made principally for the little ones but for the big guys who, like Fred, have tasted life's disappointments, the movie can hit home--even draw a tear or two in its sentimental patches. (If you're not sure they're meant to be sentimental, Marc Shaiman's soaring music will clue you in when to cry). Like "Frequency" in theme--but without Gregory Hoblit's spooky ambience--"Disney's The Kid" focuses on a 40-year-old who is not doing what he dreamed of doing. Eventually, we learn what happened to him at the age of eight that gave him a twitch in the eye and led him to become a middle-aged guy without a wife, with few if any real friends, and worst of all, without even a dog. We learn at the same time as this man, Russ Duritz (Bruce Willis), because a spot of magic has Russ meet up with himself at eight years of age when he was called Rusty (Spencer Breslin). Yep: little Rusty appears without even a clap of thunder or a bolt of lightning, and for the next week or so they bond and learn. The kid learns what will become of him. The dad finds out where he went wrong.

Although Russ surrendered his childhood dream, we may find it difficult to be sympathetic. After all the guy has a spacious home housing a brand-new shiny black Porsche and is the owner of a public relations firm with himself as "image maker" with clients like the state's governor, the city's mayor, various executives looking to improve the way they come across in public. He even gives pro bono advice to an anchorwoman on the eleven o'clock news whom he takes on briefly while they are seatmates in first class, advising her to shorten both her hair and her nails. For those of us ordinary guys who like to think that money can't buy happiness, this movie is a godsend because if you buy that premise, you might think that maybe even Bruce Willis--who made $54.5 million last year to put himself at the numero uno position among actors--might be a tad unhappy.

Bruce Willis acts out Audrey Wells's clever, though never really hilarious script in such a way that we're never convinced that he was ever a jerk--not now, not thirty-two years ago. For that, you'd have to substitute Steve Martin for Willis. Even pudgy Spencer Breslin in the role of Russ thirty- two years ago is just too smart, too boisterous to convince us that the guy was ever a jerk. Sure, the kid was beaten up at recess time by a big bully, and sure, the little guy is subject to a pratfall or two, but a loser? No way. Nonetheless as the well-heeled, well-trimmed Russ (Willis lost quite a bit of weight for the role) watches himself as a boy, he does realize that he was always smarter than most and that with some more confidence and less weight and perhaps a few boxing lessons from a champ like Kenny (Chi McBride), he would have grown up to become that pilot and would understand why his dad often treated him so harshly that he took on a permanent twitch in his eye.

Spencer Breslin as the kid is obviously at home as an actor, having begun his career at age 3 and has since been in 50 TV commercials. (He's the guy who would recite the "two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun") but after a while his rambunctiousness and in-your-face assertiveness becomes grating. Russ's relationship with Amy (Emily Mortimer) doesn't look real and in fact the news anchorwoman played by Jean Smart would be more of the right match for him. Lily Tomlin, however, is well cast as Russ's assistant, Janet, the kid of helper that any boss would love to have--efficient, funny, able to talk back to the taskmaster as though she were an equal. As a whole, the picture is probably over the heads of the targeted audience who may not really understand what is at stake here but at the same time has reasonable appeal for adults who had to give up their own dreams. Once again, though, isn't it difficult to sympathize with a guy who has everything--looks, physique, profession, sports car, a pad that could cover the pages of Architectural Digest--and who could easily pick up a dog and a lovely mate for the asking--but who missed out on becoming a pilot?

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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