[Screen It]

(2000) (Bruce Willis, Spencer Breslin) (PG)

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Comedy: Two versions of the same person learn something about themselves when a high-powered businessman meets himself as he was when he was eight-years-old.
Russ Duritz (BRUCE WILLIS) is a successful, high-powered image consultant who's single and about to turn forty. Self-centered and ruthlessly straight to the point, Russ is good at what he does, but has few friends or even time for his father, Sam (DANIEL VON BARGEN), or other relatives.

Despite Russ' cool demeanor and lack of emotional depth, both his secretary, Janet (LILY TOMLIN), and personal assistant/sometime girlfriend, Amy (EMILY MORTIMER), stick with him, only serving to reinforce his behavior. That's about to change, however, when he suddenly has repeated encounters with Rusty (SPENCER BRESLIN), a somewhat awkward and pudgy eight-year-old boy.

It's not long before Russ and Rusty realize they're the same person, but at different ages, a point that scares the boy but cracks up the businessman as he believes he's experiencing his first mental breakdown. When Janet confirms that Rusty is real, however, Russ realizes he has a bigger problem. With the boy representing a childhood he worked hard to suppress, Russ tries to figure out the reason behind Rusty's sudden appearance. Meanwhile, the boy isn't happy to learn that at the age of forty he'll be a man without a wife, dog or a job as a pilot. In other words, he's grown up to be a loser.

Realizing that he can help Rusty - with the help of his friend, Kenny (CHI McBRIDE), the heavyweight champion of the world - while helping himself, Russ tries to remember his childhood and one certain pivotal moment from the past that can not only help return Rusty there, but may also be the key to help the busy businessman regain his inner child, become a better person and make amends with Amy.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Like a perpetual, veritable time capsule, many of today's kids and infants and their accompanying behavior are continuously captured on videotape to the point that even the most mundane activities are recorded for all time.

For those of us born before the days of videotape and camcorders, and whose families didn't have 8mm movie cameras to make home movies, however, we can only go from faded and/or black and white photos, as well as secondhand anecdotes, to guess about how we truly looked, sounded and behaved as kids. For all of us in that same, frozen image only boat, we'll unfortunately never have the chance to know about such matters.

Sci-fi stories have often touched upon that very subject and accordingly allowed their characters to either travel back in time to see themselves in some younger state, or conversely travel forward to see what they're like at an older age. For a variety of reasons - the most obvious being the difficulty, in the past, and at least in part, of simultaneously presenting the same character at different ages - most related movies have the time traveler only meeting some representation of his or her relatives.

As such, and notwithstanding a few notable exceptions and taking into account the whole sci-fi dilemma of doing so, few such films have their protagonists encountering themselves. Of course, and despite the obvious curiosity and fascination of doing so, there's always the possibility that we might not like what we find in either case, whether it's what we'll become or what we once were.

That's the fun premise of "Disney's The Kid," a story about two versions of the same person - one a 40-year-old, the other who's eight - who manage to meet themselves. While not a true time travel movie per se, as there's no Orwellian device or flux-capacitor equipped De Lorean to bend time and allow for such meetings, the story has that sort of sci-fi aura permeating most of its proceedings. Despite that fact, the film unfortunately lacks the necessary amount of related magic needed to transcend its otherwise mundane story and presentation.

Given the "Disney" prefix not only to brand it with a kid-friendly identifier/label, but also to differentiate it from (and avoid potential legal problems with) the Charlie Chaplin/Jackie Coogan 1921 classic of the same name, the film certainly isn't horrible and comes off as rather benign. What it is, however, is star Bruce Willis' second consecutive summer movie where he's been paired with a child co-star.

Not surprisingly, there are no dead people to be seen here, although Willis' character thinks he's spotted an apparition in a briefly running joke that offers a few cute moments, but otherwise isn't milked for all that it's worth and often feels as if it's been misplayed. Unlike "The Sixth Sense" that offered more than its share of twists and surprises, this one also follows far more of a predictable trajectory that's evident just from hearing the film's basic storyline.

As such, it's not difficult to guess that the related characters won't initially like each other, but will eventually -- directly or indirectly -- manage to teach each other something about how to get on with and/or better their lives.

Thus, it's unlikely that viewers will be surprised when Russ instructs Rusty how to deal with bullies and his other problems, while the child will help the adult remember his childhood and how to be a "kid" again. The question then follows as to whether director Jon Turteltaub ("Instinct," "Phenomenon"), who works from a script by screenwriter Audrey Wells ("Guinevere," "The Truth About Cats and Dogs"), manages to make this an enjoyable, if familiar diversion.

The answer is that the film is okay to watch, particularly since it has its heart and related intentions in the right place, and generally manages to avoid offending or sickening viewers by being too mawkish and cloying. Yet, it often relies a bit too much on composer Marc Shaiman's ("Sleepless in Seattle," "The American President") score to drive home any number of its dramatic and/or emotional points, and the related plot elements (of the two helping each other) aren't constructed or executed with enough imagination or gusto to make them memorable.

In addition, and notwithstanding all of the presumed, preconceived parental notions about it, the film's tone (but not content) is more adult, rather than kid-based, in nature. Despite the humor stemming from the 8-year-old's actions and reactions to the predicament in which he finds himself, the film might ultimately be somewhat boring to kids.

Conversely, there's not really enough present, whether from a plot or emotional standpoint, to appease and/or hold adult viewers' attention (such as was the case with the similarly themed films, "Field of Dreams" and "Peggy Sue Got Married"). As a result, the film falls into sort of a mediocre, middle ground never-land, potentially destined not to find a large, receptive audience.

What saves the film and makes it relatively easy to watch, however, is the star presence appeal and affable performance delivered by Bruce Willis ("The Whole Nine Yards," "The Sixth Sense"). Playing something of an older, on the brink version of his David Addison character from his days on TV's "Moonlighting," Willis doesn't really do anything spectacular with the role, but plays it with the right comedic touch to make him an appealing character despite his flaws.

As his young counterpart, newcomer Spencer Breslin (making his feature film debut after appearances on some TV commercials, series and the mini-series "Storm of the Century") is generally okay in the role, balancing some good comedic bits against other acting moments - such as crying - that don't play as well. While he doesn't really look like an eight-year-old version of how one would assume Willis would at that age, the filmmakers have them share enough mannerisms to make their connection somewhat credible.

The best performance comes from the great Lily Tomlin ("Tea With Mussolini," "9 to 5") as Russ' overworked, but calm and witty secretary who knows how to put him in his place and get in her appropriate and often quite funny jabs while still doing her job.

Emily Mortimer ("Love's Labour's Lost," "Scream 3"), however, can't do much with her stereotypical and underwritten role as the emotionally abused but perseverant girlfriend and Chi McBride ("Gone in 60 Seconds," "The Frighteners") doesn't have enough time to do anything with his character. However, Jean Smart ("Guinevere," TV's "Designing Women") gets a lot of mileage from her brief supporting role as a transplanted, Southern TV news personality.

Fortunately for it and the viewer, the film manages to avoid inducing the gag reflex that easily could have occurred on more than one occasion and does benefit greatly from Willis' performance that, while not anything tremendous, does properly serve the film. Unfortunately and despite the magical sci-fi like element of an adult character being "reborn" through meeting himself as a child, the film's plot is rather lackluster and never gets out of second gear. As a result, it doesn't get up to full speed and instead feels perpetually stalled, like one of the flash frozen images of one's childhood past. Not horrible, but certainly not as fun or moving as it could have been, "Disney's The Kid" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 2, 2000 / Posted July 7, 2000

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