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THE KID

by: Michael Dequina

Review by James Berardinelli

The problem with grafting the "Disney" brand name onto the title of a movie -- Disney's The Kid - is that the film automatically has to appeal to the under-10 crowd, and, with a story that is essentially a fable about finding one's inner child, that means dumbing down the screenplay to an unacceptable level. The premise behind The Kid is ripe with promise - an emotionally calcified 40-year old (Bruce Willis) re-discovers his human side after being magically brought into contact with an eight-year old version of himself (Spencer Breslin). The flaw is in the execution. Since the average child is going to be bored by what is essentially a cerebral adult fantasy, the filmmakers felt compelled to liven things up by injecting stupid slapstick, inane cuteness (including the presence of the requisite dog), and unnecessary melodrama. Stridency replaces subtlety, and, while the result is probably still too slow for kids, it's also not terribly appealing for adults.

As people grow older, they gradually lose the innocence and joy of childhood. Life imparts harsh lessons, each of which replaces a dwindling portion of one's innate naïveté with a certain world-weary cynicism. By the time they're in their 30s and 40s, most men and women have lost sight of the simple pleasures of living, preferring instead to focus on the practicalities of existence. No one is immune. Whether or not this is part and parcel of the human condition, it's the way things are in modern-day society. Yet, at least on some remote level, each of us longs to recapture the carefree security of childhood. And therein lies the kernel of the idea behind The Kid. Unfortunately, little of that actually makes it to the screen.

The Kid is directed by Jon Turteltaub, whose checkered resume includes the likes of While You Were Sleeping (the Sandra Bullock/Bill Pullman romantic comedy) and Phenomenon (the John Travolta drama) - both fantasies of a sort. The writer is Audrey Wells, whose first screenplay, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, took its inspiration from Cyrano De Bergerac. This time around, she has once again cribbed from a famous story: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It isn't much of a stretch to see Willis' Russell Duritz as Scrooge - all that's missing is the "Humbug." There are also ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future (at least after a fashion).

Willis is miscast as Russell. The actor never gets into the rhythm of the part, which calls for him to be manic one moment and impassive the next. One of Willis' more charming qualities is his sly, easygoing humor, which is absent for the majority of the film. Too often, Willis plays his part with an awkwardness that would be at home in a TV sitcom. Making his feature debut as the eight-year old Rusty is Spencer Breslin, who acquits himself admirably, although he has problems with crying scenes. British actress Emily Mortimer (who can also be seen in Kenneth Brangh's Love's Labour's Lost) is appealing as Russell's assistant and potential love interest, Amy. Jean Smart plays a TV anchorwoman who owes Russell a favor. And Lily Tomlin has the thankless role of Janet, Russell's overworked secretary.

One thing The Kid does effectively is to avoid attempting an explanation of how eight-year old Rusty ends up in 40-year old Russell's living room. This is not a time travel story. The mechanism for the unusual journey is a simple, unaccountable magical moment. The interaction between the two Russells, which could have been more compelling with an insightful script, has its high points. The two have the same mannerisms, but, despite their obvious kinship, each views the other with surprise and disdain. The adult looks at the kid and recalls bad memori

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