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‘Life With Mikey’ (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 04, 1993

An uneven look at the reclamation of a former child star, "Life With Mikey" has the strangely amiable feel of a cult movie for the peanut gallery. It's camp and cutesy all at the same time, like a kiddie-car ride down "Sunset Boulevard" with an aging Gary Coleman behind the wheel. Caught somewhere between a spoof and a celebration of child-powered sitcoms, it only hints at the real toll of being a has-been teen.

Written and co-produced by Marc Lawrence of TV's "Family Ties," the movie is tailor-made for Michael J. Fox, who spent seven seasons as the precocious cutup on that series. Here he's the slightly biographical, playfully caustic Michael Chapman, a 31-year-old who stopped maturing when his series was canceled 16 years earlier. The irresponsible co-owner of a children's talent agency, he spends too much time watching himself on reruns of "Life With Mikey," a really lame laugh-track sitcom within the film.

His older brother and partner, Ed (Broadway star Nathan Lane of "Guys and Dolls"), runs the struggling agency with the help of a gum-popping secretary (real-life has-been Cyndi Lauper) while Michael sleeps late and plays street hockey with the neighborhood kids. Their one successful client is "the cereal king" (David Krumholtz), a 14-year-old bully who keeps Ed kowtowing with his threats to sign with a bigger agency.

Ed is about to give up on the agency when Michael's pocket is picked by the perfect kid for the Sunburst Cookie commercial -- vitriolic 10-year-old truant Angie (Christina Vidal), who claims to be an orphan from Queens. Angie calls the cookie company chief (David Huddleston) a murderer -- he's a big-game hunter -- and lifts his wallet, but he's charmed by her brass and hires her on the spot.

Matters are complicated when the urchin, a neat vegetarian, moves in with Michael, a messy smoker. The eternal child finds that he kind of likes being a father, just as the pint-sized grown-up realizes that being a kid isn't so bad. Soon he's taking her to school and she's placing pictures of nicotine-blackened lungs on his pillow. Meanwhile, the cookie company questions the validity of Angie's contract. Which leads to heart-tugging Christmas scenes at a drunk farm in Upstate New York. See, her dad (Ruben Blades) is really still alive and drying out in an alcohol rehabilitation center.

Director James Lapine, who segued from stage to screen with the sophisticated period piece "Impromptu," patches the disparate bits together through a series of no-talent kiddie auditions -- a tyke who specializes in Strindberg monologues, a miss who sings off-key Merman. What could it hurt -- a touch of "Broadway Danny Rose" -- but when was the last time you recommended a Woody Allen movie to a 12-year-old?

"Life With Mikey" is rated PG for strong language.

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