Disney's The Kid
starring Bruce Willis, Spencer Breslin, Emily Mortimer, Lily Tomlin
screenplay by Audrey Wells
directed by Jon Turteltaub
by Bill Chambers Hurling overwrought insults at just about everyone he meets, Russell Duritz (a dour Bruce Willis) is an image consultant with G-rated impatience for the world at large. Enter Russell, age eight (Spencer Breslin, only slightly less annoying than I had braced for)--Duritz's chubby younger self has somehow materialized to teach him a few Valuable Life Lessons. The trouble with a hyped-to-the-gills high-concept movie is, of course, that by the time we're lining up to see it, we've digested and come to terms with the central conceit--the fantasy premise is why we're there. Thus, the wait for a protagonist to accept what we already have can be excruciating, as it is here. The rest of Disney's The Kid's (so you don't mistake it for Chaplin's, I guess) concerns the two Russells trying to determine the cosmic moral behind their unlikely meeting, with both of them equally appalled by how the other lives his life. (This being Disney, the film only agrees with the younger, workaholic one.)
Perhaps a quicker tempo would better disguise the absence of a rewarding structure; not for nothing does the name of the film's director, who also helmed the plodding chance-encounter stories While You Were Sleeping and Phenomenon, sound like "turtle." In all fairness, Willis's innate chemistry with children, sporadic laughs, a winsome supporting turn by Emily Mortimer (as the adult Russell's British love interest), and a sweet epilogue almost save this saccharine mid-life crisis fable in a corporate-brand suit from being a totally forgettable fizzle.
I'm about to discuss a pretty out-there notion in terms of the average moviegoer's grasp of psychology: the hard cut vs. the fade out. I have retained some affection for The Kid because it ends with a hard cut to black following said winning closer. Fade-outs let us off the hook; they're a visual exhale, easing us gently into the credits--and, by extension, back into our lives. The sudden appearance of black, on the other hand, enables the final shot to stay in our imagination a while, and more vividly; the same thing happens when we shut our eyes fast after staring at bright surroundings. It is surprising that Jon Turteltaub took the (slightly) less conventional pathway out of the film, since everything else is steeped in hoary, "enchanting" cinematic devices so recognizably proto-Spielbergian that even Spielberg himself isn't using them anymore. The Kid's weird premise, however, is vintage Disney, harking back to the studio's tradition of revisiting the premise of Freaky Friday every 10 years or so. Mix the two approaches and you've got a brain-rotting concoction of wonder and schmaltz that lingers marginally longer than one might presume. I hold the lovely Mortimer accountable, too. Originally published: July 7, 2000.
*Screenwriter Audrey Wells ducks issues of paradox by positioning her tale as one of magic realism instead of science-fiction, an honourable attempt at avoiding the trappings of convoluted time-travel thrillers like Frequency. Yet her script, full of token and neglected fantastical elements (such as an omnipotent red ultralight--a prefab marketing hook if there ever was one (Disney handed out styrofoam versions of it at the preview)) is so shiftless that I began longing for the technobabble of Back to the Future's Doc Brown, who would have a field day with Russell's predicament.