The Kid
directed by Jon Turtletaub
(Walt Disney/Buena Vista, 2000)

When businessman Russ Duritz meets his childhood self, who's mysteriously appeared at his door, he's appalled: Little Rusty is chubby. He has a speech impediment. He's the kid everyone at school picks on.

But for Rusty, grownup Russ is even more galling. He might be a wildly successful image consultant, but who cares?

"You don't have a dog?!" Rusty yells, near panic, "No dog?? I grow up to be a guy with no dog?"

And that's the way The Kid goes, as the adult version of Russ Duritz (Bruce Willis) tries to figure out why his childhood self (Spencer Breslin) has appeared magically before him. Seems simple at first, to Russ: Rusty is a loser. But maybe, as much as Russ has to teach Rusty, Rusty has an even more important lesson for Russ.

The Kid, Willis' third movie for Disney, has an amiability typical of Disney movies. There's little subtlety, and a huge gap in plot, but, "Hey," it seems to say, "Accept the plot as it is, and we'll bring you along for a heartwarming ride."

As the movie's tagline goes, nobody ever grows up quite like they imagined. Russ is pretty far away from his original dream -- to be a pilot. Instead, the little boy everyone ridiculed has grown up and willed himself into a new persona: a handsome image consultant, helping sports team owners and anchorwomen remake themselves into different people.

You bet there's more than a little lesson here about being true to yourself. You bet The Kid will bring it up every 10 minutes to make sure you get it.

When the kid shows up on Russ' doorstep, neither one understands who the other is. Their scene of awakening is deft -- and young Breslin, in his first feature film role, more than holds his own with veteran Willis. He's not, for the most part, a self-conscious young actor. Instead, it's like watching an uncle egg on his nephew, and vice versa.

Even when he knows who Rusty is, Russ isn't impressed. As he tells his assistant Amy, he's embarassed. He doesn't want to get back on his childhood track. Estranged from his family, wallowing in dough, he's convinced himself he's happy the way things are.

But, of course, The Kid has other plans.

The Kid flirts with sappiness, but it's mostly from the script, not the performances.

Breslin is wonderful, a combination of wariness, innocence and optimism that rings true. And if Willis could tone down his smart snarkiness, he probably could make a career playing Disney dads. He has that kind of rapport with kids, and it makes more sense, at his age, than continuing to seek action-hero roles.

They're supported by Jean Smart in what's basically a do-nothing role as an anchorwoman, and the always-welcome Lily Tomlin as Janet, who manages Russ' office and his life with her trademark wryness and dry wit.

The Kid is billed as a kids' movie, but it's doubtful they'll get the movie's full impact. For kids, turning 16 is ancient; Russ' impending 40th birthday, and its accompanying crisis, is unimaginable. Better to say The Kid is great for anyone who can suspend disbelief and who remembers, just a little, what kids' dreams are like.

[ by Jen Kopf ]
Rambles: 8 December 2001

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