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Silly 'The Kid'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 7, 2000


    'Disney's The Kid' Bruce Willis and Emily Mortimer in "Disney's The Kid." (Disney)
If "Disney's The Kid" is feel-good filmmaking, then why am I sick to my stomach?

The story – about a slick, 40-year-old image consultant and professional jerk (Bruce Willis) who learns to embrace his inner child when the pudgy eight-year-old version of his former self (Spencer Breslin) magically turns up in person to show him the error of his ways – is so rich in processed sugar, canned sentiment and schmaltz, I thought I was going to throw up. Even the welcome acidity of Lily Tomlin, as jerk-boy's tart-tongued personal assistant, was not enough to cut the taste of oleaginous malarkey.

Willis plays Russ Duritz, a high-powered ball of anger in an expensive suit who makes his living getting celebrities out of jams they have only too gleefully dived into. Why any client would think that someone so rude, so shrill and so clueless in his dealings with people would know squat about public relations is the film's real mystery, but that's another story. As succinctly summed up by li'l Rusty, Russ's corpulent elementary-school doppelganger, the hero is a flack who helps people "lie about who they are so they can pretend to be somebody else." (Cue the booing and hissing.) Russ abuses his staff, has no love life and, what's worse (in Rusty's eyes at least), he doesn't own a dog.

Even pretty staff videographer Amy (Emily Mortimer), who inexplicably pines for her plainly unlovable boss, goes unappreciated until the meddling, er, magical matchmaking, of this visitor from the fourth dimension. Rusty, by the way, is visible to everyone, so director Jon Turteltaub can't get any comic mileage there.

Okay, I admit some of the kids at the screening I sat through did chuckle a time or two, particularly at the mention of the words "fart" and "butt," but otherwise the theater was a yuk-free zone. I'm convinced the small child in the seat directly behind me had to be a Mouse Factory shill, spontaneously providing such play-by-play commentary as "Now who could that be at the door?"

Breslin himself, who resembles a latter-day Mason Reese, is cute enough (in fact I foresee a great future for him in ice cream commercials), but his utter adorableness is a little hard to swallow. Singing "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt" at 3 a.m. is supposed to be funny?

Two-thirds of the way through high jinks such as this, the humor (and my pint-size pundit neighbor) dried up when Russ and Rusty began to put their heads together for a little recovered-memory detective work (if only psychotherapy were as easy as time travel). As they endeavor to discover the root of the big guy's emotional problems (and that pesky eye twitch that everyone keeps talking about but which never registers on Willis's wooden face), it turns out, naturally, there's a Traumatic Childhood Event waiting to be stumbled over.

Nothing so serious, though, that a few lines of psychobabble lifted by screenwriter Audrey Wells from the self-help section of the local bookstore can't cure – not to mention a couple of intrusive bars of Marc Shaiman's simultaneously jaunty and bombastic score.

You know, it occurs to me that maybe I'm a bit like Russ myself (aren't we all?). Maybe there's a wounded little boy trapped inside this cynical adult shell that needs to come out and teach me what it means to laugh and live and love again. Maybe that's the real reason I had a problem with "Disney's The Kid." I'm too much like it's emotionally stunted hero.

Then again, maybe a moral you can smell a mile away just plain stinks.

DISNEY'S THE KID (PG, 101 minutes) – Contains a couple of mild bathroom vulgarities, a playground fistfight and a dog in jeopardy.


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