Last summer, Bruce Willis had a lot of luck teaming with a kid, eleven-year-old Haley Joel Osment, in The Sixth Sense. With Disney’s The Kid – a weird title meant to distinguish this sentimental bilge from Charlie Chaplin’s 1921 silent masterpiece – Willis’ luck has run out. It’s not that this underrated actor isn’t up to playing Russ Duritz, a forty-year-old image consultant gone rigid with cynicism; it’s that this movie isn’t up to him. The comic screenplay by Audrey Wells, who scored as the “writer and director of 1999’s Guinevere, pivots on a toothless premise: Russ needs to get in touch with his inner child.
By all means, take a moment to gag before I go on. Ready? In the middle of his job, putting salable public faces on whiny politicos, big-haired TV anchors and greedy baseball-team owners, Russ gets a visit from Rusty (Spencer Breslin), a pudgy misfit of an eight-year-old who is really Russ as a kid. Miracles like this tend to happen in Jon Turteltaub flicks. Remember John Travolta in Phenomenon, or Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping, or Anthony Hopkins in Instinct? Turteltaub, who is most fortunate in the stars he casts, directs movies that are irrevocably inspirational. Lightning strikes, and quirky characters are driven by a sudden desire to conform.
The kid berates Russ as a loser because he hasn’t used his ill-eotten gains to get a pilot’s license, buy a dog and settle down with a good woman. The movie supplies all of the above with an irony-free sunniness that would delight the staunchest Republican. It’s as if Russ himself had directed the damn thing, snickering on the sidelines. “Holy smokes,” as Rusty would say. Sassy actors, like Lily Tomlin as Russ’ girl Friday and Jean Smart (robbed of an Oscar nomination for Guinevere) as the big-haired TV anchor, get mired in the goo. Willis and Breslin – feisty and fun as a physical match-up – end up selling greeting-card banalities. It’s not hard to see who steered The Kid wrong. I see Disney people.