- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2000

''Disney's the Kid" has a curiously possessive ring.

Were all the other Hollywood studios planning heartwarmers called "The Kid"? An appropriate alternative might have been "Me & Myself," since the plot revolves around Bruce Willis on the eve of his 40th birthday as he hangs out magically with the boy he once was on the eve of an eighth birthday.

Despite a considerable investment in whimsical cuteness, the teamwork of Mr. Willis and a pudgy Spencer Breslin, 8, is unlikely to drop Charlie Chaplin's rapport with Jackie Coogan in "The Kid" of 1920 down a notch in classic esteem. Like everything else in competition last weekend, "Kid" got outrageously clobbered by "Scary Movie."

Screenwriter Audrey Welles supposedly got the notion for the movie while musing one day about what the future might hold in 10 years. She transformed her speculation into a tritely argumentative and then predictably affirmative domestic farce. This less than enchanting result occurred despite an obvious debt to "A Christmas Carol" and such fanciful props as a ghostly red biplane and a ghostly diner, attention-getters that help the protagonist reconcile with a literal inner child.

Mr. Willis, whose career rebounded last summer when he was matched with an appealing juvenile in "The Sixth Sense," is introduced as an ill-tempered grown-up, Russ Duritz. This character treats clients like dirt while supposedly prospering as an image consultant in Los Angeles. The role does allow Mr. Willis to dress up attractively all the way to the top of his dome, in fact. Instead of the madly fluctuating hairpieces of "The Story of Us," he stands pat with a single neat toupee, rakishly off-center and tousled. Spectators will certainly give a thumbs-up to Duritz's "rug." There is hope for this crank.

Despite alienating character attributes, Russ seems to have won a certain tolerance from girl Friday Janet, played by Lily Tomlin. She is allowed to respond sarcastically to his bossiness. Russ also seems to be a prospective boyfriend to a sweet-natured English video photographer (Emily Mortimer as leading lady Amy) who does occasional public relations footage for the tyrant.

Jean Smart, in the role of Deidre, also seems to know how to brush aside Russ' rudeness during a chance encounter on a plane flight. In other words, alert moviegoers have plenty of reason to deduce that Miss Welles' updated Scrooge is being groomed for character reformation in obvious ways.

This impression causes a certain amount of impatience with plot devices that insist that characters be slow on the uptake to enhance random chuckles. For instance, Russ takes longer than necessary to recognize that his boyish self, nicknamed Rusty, has time-traveled into the present. Some harebrained lust for gratuitous action even prompts director Jon Turteltaub to authorize a chase of "E.T." vintage, with Russ in his car pursuing Rusty (or a stuntman, to be precise) on a bicycle. This "cinematic" diversion seems to delay the scenes in which Russ and Rusty get acquainted.

Arguably, the filmmakers save a little time by having only a visitor from the past help Russ get a heart. Rusty is clearly a child variation on the Ghost of Christmas Past, unaccompanied by the additional phantoms that tormented Scrooge. However, a surprise additional ghost does appear during the denouement, pointing toward parallel contented futures for man and boy. This is rather in the spirit of "Frequency," which may have anticipated Hollywood's latest approach to healing all emotional wounds for members of the audience.

For some reason, the filmmakers ignore a time-traveling aspect that would presumably loom large with Rusty: He's suddenly 32 years into the future. Would not that arouse his curiosity a little bit? Evidently not, obliging you to entertain abstract notions of the theme: Well, maybe, it's all about Russ talking to himself, after all. Still, you can see Mr. Willis as a big Russ and Spencer as his sidekick.

Incredibly, Disney even refrains from giving Rusty a forecast of Disneyland 2000. Russ' idea of an excursion is to travel back to the most traumatic afternoon of Rusty's life as a bullied schoolboy.

Nevertheless, if you generously overlook an abundance of missed bets and a similar profusion of halfhearted scenes, "Disney's the Kid" might sneak by as a cheerful mediocrity. Spencer has winning moments. You also can wonder whether Miss Mortimer would have made more sense cast as Bridget Jones in a new movie based on the 1998 bestseller than Renee Zellweger does. Funny how your mind wanders during certain movies.

ONE STAR OUT OF FOUR STARS

TITLE: "Disney's the Kid"

RATING: PG (Fleeting comic vulgarity and elements of family conflict and heartbreak)

CREDITS: Directed by Jon Turteltaub. Written by Audrey Wells.

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

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