Disney's The Kid (2000)
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Cast: Bruce Willis, Spencer Breslin, Emily Mortimer, Lily Tomlin, Jean Smart, Chi McBride, Daniel Von Bargen, Dana Ivey.
2000 101 minutes
Rated: (for mild violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 8, 2000.
The superfluously titled "Disney's The Kid" is a spin on one of the late-'80s most recycled premises, in which a character transforms from a child into a child in an adult's body overnight (1988's "Big"), or the souls of parent and child switch places (1987's "Like Father, Like Son," 1988's "Vice Versa"). The hook this time is that there is no role reversals or character switches, but that the adult and child versions of the same man come face-to-face. Bearing a striking resemblance in many ways to Penny Marshall's wonderfully magical "Big," it is easy to see how, with special handling and care, "Disney's The Kid" might have been able to rise to the former picture's level. Unfortunately, due to director Jon Turteltaub's and screenwriter Audrey Wells' syrupy treatment, both of whom stubbornly struggle at nearly every turn to make the film one children would be entertained through-and-through at, they botch the film's ambitious chances at greatness.
Like a train traveling full speed down a railroad track, Turteltaub's idea of making a successful children's fantasy is to keep moving, moving, moving, without pausing long enough to take a breather and getting to know the characters onscreen a little better. In fact, "Disney's The Kid" is almost annoying in the way it has been so obviously dumbed down in order to please the little kiddies in the audience and make a quick buck (that's Disney, for you).
Nearing his 40th birthday, Russ Duritz (Bruce Willis) is a workaholic image consultant who cares about little else other than himself, including his long-suffering partner and quasi-girlfriend Amy (Emily Mortimer). Following eerie instances in which he keeps imagining seeing a shiny, red plane flying in the air, and, at one point, follows a young child who was seen trespassing on his property into a restaurant, only for it to disappear into thin air after exiting the building, Russ suspects that he may be having a psychological issue.
That's when the precocious 8-year-old Russ Duritz (Spencer Breslin) shows up, unsure how he got where he is but inexplicably linked to his grumpy 40-year-old self. This time, however, Russ is relieved to learn that his personal assistant, Janet (Lily Tomlin), and Amy can also see the child, and becomes convinced that the chubby, little "Rusty" was brought here so that he can help him out with his own image, which cost him a fair amount of heartache throughout his school years. The more the two bond, though, the more the adult Russ starts to remember about a portion of his childhood that he has since blocked out, as it becomes increasingly clear the younger Russ appeared to help him come to terms with the one event in his life that changed him from an innocent boy into a hard-edged, unhappy man.
"Disney's The Kid" is a plodding motion picture whose blueprint is fundamentally predictable, causing an absence of interest to be invested into the plot particulars. Acquiring a troubling headache is another story altogether, as there is so much yelling and repetition in the opening half that it begins to get on your nerves. The last 45 minutes are more surprising, as the film slows down its quick pace to nowhere and gets a little serious. Without discussing the particulars, both versions of Russ find themselves facing the turning point in their life that changed them, and know that if they don't recognize the problem the second time around, their ill-omened future will be unavoidable.
In recent years, Bruce Willis has truly been branching out as an actor, appearing in everything from a horror film (1999's "The Sixth Sense"), to action (1998's "Armageddon"), to quirky comedy (1999's "Breakfast of Champions"), to screwball comedy (2000's "The Whole Nine Yards"), to human drama (1999's "The Story of Us"), to a family picture ("Disney's The Kid"). After years of being labeled little other than an action star, Willis has had a major career turnabout, proving that he is not only serious about his profession, but a fine actor, indeed. As the patronizing Russ Duritz, whose completely lost all signs of wide-eyed innocence and youth, Willis gives a genuinely touching performance. His counterpart, newcomer Spencer Breslin, is brightly unaffected, abandoning few signs of being an unctuous child actor.
As Amy, Russ' potential love interest, Emily Mortimer (2000's "Scream 3") sparkles. A natural talent and beauty, Mortimer gives Amy a much-needed warm-heartedness that balances out the cold Russ. The irreplaceable Lily Tomlin is also on hand in the underwritten role of Janet, Russ' assistant, and while she gives it her all and stands out in her few scenes, Tomlin is honestly too good to be wasting her time in throwaway parts like this. Finally, Jean Smart is a vibrant standout, developing her character of Deirdre, an aspiring newsanchor with an unexpected human connection to Russ, with an added level of realism that is truly refreshing.
When the climax finally arrived, it required a hint of subtle, yet powerful, resonance, much like "Big" did, and achieved. Ultimately, "Disney's The Kid" is rarely ever discreet in its emotions, and the finale is hampered, like much of what came before, by being just too cute and gushy for its own good. The final scene, between Russ and Amy, and played effectively to the tune, "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," on the other hand, does hold the subtlety required, and ends on a strong note. But the damage had already been done. Throughout "Disney's The Kid," I couldn't help but imagine how the film might have been drastically altered had only the cloying music score, by Marc Shaiman, been changed from its current kiddie origins to something more sophisticated and refined. In retrospect, the misguided score might have been all that needed to be modified for a mediocre film to be a good one. At every turn, "Disney's The Kid" screams out for that special, gentle touch, and the filmmakers sadly never realize it. Or maybe they just didn't care.
©2000 by Dustin Putman