The Kid (Film)

(Walt Disney Pictures)

An in-demand image consultant on the cusp of his 40th birthday who’s confronted by his inner child…in the flesh.

There aren’t a lot of actors who could have made this work.  The pairing of Bruce Willis with eight-year-old Spencer Breslin, however, was an inspired choice reminiscent of the films of yesteryear when quirky screenplays were matched with delightful actors (Lily Tomlin, Emily Mortimer, and Jean Smart also star).

Russ Duritz (Bruce Willis) is an arrogant, Pygmalion-type spin doctor for the rich and famous who demands perfection from everyone around him — including his attractive assistant who’s not even allowed to bite her fingernail.  He falls apart, however, when his pudgy past catches up with his ivory tower middle age:  an inquisitive eight-year-old named Rusty suddenly materializes in his home and at business meetings, dips French fries in chocolate shakes, and asks questions about the moon in the middle of the night.

This is where The Kid” really shines:  the humorous, tit-for-tat exchanges between Russ Duritz and his spunky younger self.  “You mean I grow up to be a loser??” the incredulous youngster exclaims when hearing his future doesn’t include a dog.

“You look like a pathetic dweeb,” Russ tells the red-jacketed, blue-eyed butterball.  The truth is, the perfect man had a less than perfect childhood.  When he buried his memories, he also buried his heart and his ability to maintain intimate relationships.

Bruce Willis, as the food purist perfectionist, moves with the leonine grace of someone who can afford an expensive trainer.  He’s also impressive at conveying the emotional impact of his character’s quickening memories.  Spencer Breslin, as the little boy who guilelessly guides him into wellness, is the neighbor we’d all love to have:  he’d eat all of our stale cookies and say “thank you” as he burped on the way out.

This engaging and very funny movie only disappoints toward the end when the gratuitous introduction of a three-legged dog about to be tortured and a dying mother overburden the charming but slightly bittersweet premise.  (Was someone pushing for a PG-rating?)

As usual, fact is stranger than fiction.  Bruce Willis and actress Demi Moore are no longer a couple but she’s starring in a recently released movie with a similar plot.  In Passion of Mind,” Moore plays a woman whose suppressed childhood memories trigger the fantastical creation of a fulfilling dual life with an older man and two children.  Freud would have loved it.

(PG:  a dog with firecrackers tied around its neck; morbid comments about illness)

(Written by C.E. Chambers and published by The Journal Newspapers Movie Edition on July 11, 2000.)

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