Silly 'The Kid'
By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 7, 2000
If "Disney's The Kid" is feel-good filmmaking, then why am I sick to my
Bruce Willis and Emily Mortimer in "Disney's The Kid."
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.