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'Kid, The'

The child and the man: 'The Kid' offers some life lessons on growing up

Friday, July 07, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Yes, the very successful Russ Duritz (Bruce Willis) claims he has forgotten his childhood. "It's in the past, where it belongs," he insists to a disbelieving psychotherapist.

'The Kid'

RATING: PG for mild language

STARRING: Bruce Willis, Spencer Breslin

DIRECTOR: Jon Turteltaub


CRITIC'S CALL: 2 1/2 Stars


Still, you might think he would immediately recognize the pudgy boy with the moon-shaped face, big blue eyes, mop of brown hair and distinctive slurpy speaking style. "Do I know you?" he asks, in "The Kid."

Does he know him?

It's him, on the cusp of age 8. Somehow little Rusty (Spencer Breslin) has traveled through time from 1968 to meet his grown-up self, and boy, is he disappointed. "So I'm 40, I'm not married, I don't fly jets and I don't have a dog. I grow up to be a loser!"

By some accounts, Russ is far from a loser. He's an image consultant who counsels the biggest who do not-so-bright things. He lives in a fabulous Los Angeles house, dresses impeccably and gets to tell governors and ball-club owners to shape up.

But he falls down, big time, in the friends and family department. When his father asks for some help moving, he sends a check instead. Just when he manages to charm a pretty female employee (Emily Mortimer), he does something to insult or alienate her.

It would appear that young Rusty could learn a thing or two from Russ. And, more importantly, Russ could learn a thing or two from Rusty. Those lessons are at the center of "The Kid," a passable family film but one not in the same league as, say, "My Dog Skip."

"The Kid" would have made an excellent original film for the Disney Channel or ABC's Sunday night slot. It's the kind of movie that has a companion Scholastic Book Club selection and should help families pass the time on a rainy summer afternoon.

Although Willis is the star, it's young Spencer Breslin who is the scene-stealer. For much of the movie, Willis has to act so rude and frosty that he doesn't have a chance to really connect with his pint-size co-star. He finally gets to come alive toward the end, and it's fun to watch the Willis-with-warmth version.

Breslin, on the other hand, doesn't have to see dead people or be anything other than a regular kid -- clumsy, ill-mannered (picking his nose, scratching his belly), inquisitive. For a child suddenly transported from 1968 to 2000, though, he's not terribly curious about such modern amenities as computers or compact discs and doesn't seem to ask what's become of his siblings.

And a conversation about the moon doesn't even prompt Russ to mention that in 1969 man actually set foot on the lunar surface. And the year after that, the Beatles broke up.

The nicest moment in the movie comes when Willis and a recently transplanted TV anchor (Jean Smart, who connects with Willis more than his designated love interest) talk about childhood dreams and adult realities. "How many of us turn out to be what we thought? Astronauts, prima ballerinas. We just all do the best we can." That's one message, and a nice one, too.

The other is that we shouldn't abandon our dreams, whether they're job-related or simply to own a dog named Chester. A little muddier advice comes into play on a school yard, when bullies unwittingly set into motion a chain of life-changing events.

This is no "Chicken Run" in terms of originality; even its overpowering Marc Shaiman score seems like it's been recycled. But it has some interesting faces in small roles, including Lily Tomlin as Russ' ever-patient assistant, Dana Ivey as a therapist and, I'm sure, "Friends" star Matthew Perry, hiding behind a dark beard, mustache, long flowing hair and bandanna at a restaurant business meeting. When it comes to cameos, that goes the whole nine yards.

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