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Bob Smithouser

Movie Review

An abrasive, cynical, self-centered Los Angeles image consultant (Willis) has his world turned upside down when his 8-year-old self inexplicably appears on his doorstep. Russ Duritz, the grown-up jerk, meets Rusty Duritz, the idealistic kid. Upon surveying an expensive home full of stuff—but no one to share it with—the child expresses disappointment in the “loser” he becomes (“a dogless, chickless guy with a twitch”). Meanwhile, the man looks upon the boy with disdain—a chubby, awkward symbol of his painful youth. The two must sift through memories and try to figure out the purpose of this bizarre reunion. In other words, Willis must connect with his inner child and make the life changes necessary to keep from carrying out his Ebeneezer Scrooge-like existence to its logical, lonely, pathetic conclusion. Along for the ride are Amy, Russ’ spunky, romantic coworker, and Janet, his loyal, self-assured assistant (who has some of the film’s best moments as she playfully skewers Russ and refuses to be intimidated by him). The Kid meanders its way to a fairly predictable climax of personal redemption.

Positive Elements: Russ is vilified early, making his rudeness to shoppers, waitresses, airline passengers, public officials and even his own father vivid examples of how not to treat others. Similarly, when Russ describes his job to Rusty, he says, “That’s the fun of it. You boss people around,” though he doesn’t seem to be having much fun at all. A bitter Russ tells the boy that their family ended up moving twelve times during his youth, suggesting that a lack of roots and connectedness can negatively impact a child. Used to limited TV options, Rusty channel-surfs only to conclude, “Holy smokes, 99 channels and there’s nothing on.” Lying and spin-doctoring is condemned. Rusty bravely faces a predestined playground scuffle in order to rescue a three-legged dog and confront the school bully. An encounter between young Rusty and his dad (during a brief trip back to 1968) illustrates how parents can break their children’s spirits with harsh words and an unwillingness to validate their “childish” emotional needs. The tail end of that scene finds Rusty blaming himself for his mother’s untimely death, but fortunately his adult self is right there to maturely reassure him that it’s not his fault at all. After turning over a new leaf, Russ generously blesses Janet and her husband with tickets to Hawaii. The film implies that people can change, romantic notions keep the heart young and true satisfaction in life involves a loving marriage (and a Golden Retriever).

Spiritual Content: None

Sexual Content: Minor. There’s a passing reference to a public official’s intimate involvement with a mannequin. When Russ, plagued by hallucinations, tells his doctor that he’s seeing a guy in a plane, the psychiatrist’s facial expression betrays her assumption that he’s referring to a same-sex romance (“Not that kind of ‘seeing,’” he clarifies).

Violent Content: Russ takes Rusty to see a boxer pal for a few pointers on self-defense (there’s one blow below the belt). Russ accidentally gets kicked in the face. Boys fight on the playground, resulting in a bloody nose for Rusty. Convinced that his home security system needs an impregnable electric fence, Russ demands, “I want electrocution! I want charred flesh!”

Crude or Profane Language: Russ makes a crass comment about “fart bubbles.” His obnoxiousness finds him telling total strangers to “shut up.” There are about a half-dozen exclamations such as “oh, my g–!,” “I swear to g–” and “Holy Moses!”

Drug and Alcohol Content: Suffering from “hallucinations,” Russ demands that his doctor give him drugs, which she does. Later he takes all four pills at once. It’s played for laughs, but may give young viewers the idea that abusing “very strong medication” is the go-to answer for life’s problems.

Other Negative Elements: Russ lies to Amy by telling her that Rusty is his nephew. When Rusty announces, “I gotta pee,” he and Russ are shown from behind as they stand before urinals. There are a lot of comments made about Rusty’s weight and unattractiveness, mostly by Russ (who says of their young-adult years, “We’re still ugly, but we’re very smart”). The abundance of “fat jokes” may not help the esteem of overweight young viewers who see too much of themselves in Rusty.

Summary: The Kid has a good heart, but stumbles in its storytelling. Most notably, how did the whole time travel thing happen? Even if the underlying rules of fantasy ask us to suspend disbelief or grant amazing latitude, we still want to know what forces are at work. For example, Frequency recently asked audiences to believe that people could converse on a ham radio 30 years apart thanks to a wild meteorological phenomenon. It’s a stretch, but at least it gave some explanation. Not here. A mysterious biplane soars through the film, dropping a skywritten clue one moment and ushering Russ and Rusty into a time-warp the next. A greasy-spoon diner materializes and disappears without a trace. What of the people inside? The filmmakers never attempt to explain. Furthermore, a scene in which Russ describes his bizarre dilemma to a TV anchorwoman over a cup of coffee is ludicrous. She buys his story of being visited by his 8-year-old self too matter-of-factly. No thoughts that he may be insane. No need for proof. Not even a journalistic urge to get the freakish drama on the evening news. She’s just scripted in to suggest that the reason for the kid’s visit may be their need to learn from each other and complete unfinished business. I see short people.

This follow-up to Willis’ role in The Sixth Sense shows that he’s good with kids. He and Breslin seem to enjoy themselves, which makes watching them interact a lot of fun. In fact, one tirade finds Willis cracking a smile the way Harvey Korman used to break character on the old Carol Burnett Show. (It’s funny, but how did they miss that when they reviewed the dailies?) There are some genuinely funny moments, usually involving Lily Tomlin in a delightful supporting role. The messages about remembering what thrilled us as children and embracing those idealistic notions are great, though the final scenes feature Russ and Rusty sharing both malts and schmaltz. A little drippy for teens despite its good intentions. The Kid is sweet, upbeat and benign, yet curiously unsatisfying. It’s an after-school special posing as $8 entertainment.

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Bob Smithouser