RIORI Vol 3, Installment 93: Jon Turteltaub’s “Disney’s The Kid” (2000)


The-Kid-poster-art


The Players…

Bruce Willis and Spencer Breslin, with Emily Mortimer, Lily Tomlin, Chi McBride and Jean Smart.


The Story…

Russ Duritz is not a happy man.

Sure, he lives in an nice home, drives a cool car and is above all a successful businessman. But all at the expense of being terminally stressed, insomniac, no social life and married to his job. His fortieth birthday is days away, and that is usually a time for reflection, which he does as one would bat away a gnat.

One strange night, Russ discovers an intruder in his posh pad. It’s just an eight-year old boy named Rusty. Before he calls the authorities Russ senses something odd about this kid. That and the toy plane he’s clutching. That and it feels all so familiar. Didn’t he have one of those planes when he was Rusty’s age? That was over 30 years ago.

Wait a minute.


The Rant…

My birthday’s coming up, and that always puts me in a philosophical mood. One more year down. How many more to go? Rate I’m going, this might be the final installment of RIORI. Hope not, not while Scarlett Johanson still breathes and squeezes into black latex. That’s not being charitable, BTW.

On the whole, birthdays are fun even if you don’t celebrate them. You can, rest-assured some dork at your workplace caught wind of your b’day and ordered some cake for your grey ass and all worker friends. Some of those worker friends might take you out for a few after shift for whist and beer. Good times. Maybe your fam will get you a gift. If you’re lucky another cake, ice cream this time. All nice gestures. Once more around the sun. You survived! And back to churning out shrimp cocktail the following day. Maybe this year will be better.

I don’t do anything for my birthday anymore. The last significant birthday deed was renting a car when I turned 25. Didn’t bother campaigning for the presidency at 35. By my record, I’d only rate as the valet at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Heard that diplomats drive some fly rides. All those Accords. When I turned 40 I went to work and got a gift of thorough indifference. Now get to deveining those 10 bales of shrimp.

I hate shrimp.

So I get all reflective come birthday time. Surprise, surprise I tend to get maudlin, too. If you’re a thinking person, you probably do too come that time of year. Reflecting on the time gotten away. Example, I never really wanted to be a chef. It was during the great recession when I made my decision to attend culinary school. The work I was outwardly qualified had dried up, so onto the fallback career. I had studied to be an educator, but again, recession. And we all know schools take the biggest hit when the well is running dry. In short I missed out, and consider that often.

Might be the same for you. The older of us I mean, when the Interweb required a plug. The years wear on and on, and your memory gets longer. You reflect on past glories (like that time at Polk High…), your salad years at college, planting pearls here and there, your high school crush and where they are (prob married with a litter of troglodyte kids. Stupid vaccinations). Former employment, good jobs and sh*tty ones alike. Heck, you learned a lot from both and maybe took away something (like a girlfriend, which was your undoing at your late place of employ. Oops. Love you, Kay). Even mundane stuff like your first piece of sh*t car you bought with your own money, drove to death for years until it imploded outside the DQ you used to take aforementioned crush to every Friday back then. Always check the fluid level in the radiator, always. A Yugo is a rather fragile piece of junk.

Or a fave read you didn’t quite get, but the journey was fun (I’m teething through my third stab at Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. A little luck would be welcome). Or a movie that stabbed you into reality. Or lost friends, lost jobsand lost opportunities. The stuff that makes you stare into the morning mirror. Face it, getting older sucks, but chewing over a lost past sucks even more. The truth digs, as does scraping that dull razor across your neck before you dash to work a devein more shrimp.

I hate shrimp. Did I mention that?

Let’s put the moaning and groaning on hold. When your b’day rears its mocking face again, it’s not all gloom and doom in said mirror. You’ve learned a lot, experienced a lot over the years. You are definitely wiser now than in your callow youth then. The mistakes and successes from the past has molded you into a fuller person. You’ve read a lot of cool books, seen many cool movies, met several cool people and rubbed your eyes enough to understand streaming Netflix’s Runaways into bingeworthy results in a dramatic loss of Cheetos. For shame. Still, another lesson learned based against the wisdom accumulated via many birthdays hence. Such knowledge is a good thing, esp considering your next job interview.

As a caution, I recall something I mentioned about my dislike for the cockroaches of the sea, AKA shrimp.

*sound of beer cans being stomped on*

Time to stop with the editorial. Truth be told, birthdays are ultimately there to remind you of stuff. Mortality. Fortune. Lessons learned and not. Where to go from here. But mostly reflection. And that reflection is usually couched in the existential, “What happened and what if?” I feel that “if” often revolves around the halcyon days of youth. Childhood. Then the scene was wide open. Green fields. Delightful ignorance. NES taking prioriety of school performance (as it should be!). Time to fritter time for wondering. Right? Them’s were the days. No bills. No work. No taxes. No parenting. Just you, sixth grade bullying and Mega Man 2.

But that “if” only occurs after many, many calendar pages get torn off and tossed in the dustbin. Nowadays you look around and weigh things. To cut it short, you wanted to be an astronaut. Now? You want fries with that? Okay, maybe it ain’t that bad. Fries are yummy, after all. I read once an editorial by the late, great s/f writer Harlan Ellison was his definition of success as an adult is an extension of your passions as a kid. I’m paraphrasing. Example: if your fave toy was Legos, you’d grow up to be an architect. If your rode a pet horse then, you’d be a rancher now. If you played drums all the way into high school you might, might find yourself opening for a fledging Gaslight Anthem in some dive bar in Devil’s Crevice, NJ. Stuff like that. Makes sense in a way.

But if you’re like me, birthdays find yourself under you own microscope. How’d I do? I hate to get all negative, but I think a great many of us, despite great reserve, start shaking their fists heavenwards, tempting a storm. Where did my life go? Where did my dreams go? Who the f*ck are the Gaslight Anthem?

The flipside is true also, I think. No matter one’s accomplishments, there’s a nagging voice all about, “Where do the years go?” You presently have a good job, money in the bank, a nice family, a reliable car and a vintage, working NES in the man cave. But is this all there is? I’m still not an astronaut, dammit.

Well, not yet.

Or not then…


Image is everything, at least according to Russ Duritz (Willis). He’s a special consultant, an “image consultant,” as it were. His job entails dispensing advice how to make the bad look good, both literally and metaphorically. Make the questionable appear legit. Recommend the right haircut. Russ makes his living based on artifice. And he does not care for it lately.

He might be good at his job of constructive schadenfreude, but it sure makes a lonely life regardless of his acumen. He’s fast approaching a Jerry Maguire moment, as well as an impending 40th birthday. It’s that age where youth is over, and now the past. Bitter nostalgia.

One night after sweating over his latest mark, the TV starts blaring. He follows a trail of popcorn and discovers some 8-year old kid (almost 9) named Rusty (Breslin) has set up shop in his living room. Russ grills him. Where did you come from? What are you doing here? Where’d you get the popcorn?

Rusty doesn’t know. He just found himself in Russ’ pad, dicking around with his toy plane, and feeling very lost. So Russ sweats the kid like one of his vainglorious clients. What’s your scene? You lost? Why do you look so damned familiar?

Well, after sharing stories (and scars, and birthmarks, and memories), it smells like Rusty is Russ, 30 years behind. A pudgy, curious, scared l’il Russ, had inexplicably been warped from the 1960s into the smack dab of the 00s. Face to face with his cranky future self. Russ wonders if there’s a lesson happening here.

A piece of that insists that many major errors went down between Rusty growing into bitter Russ. It’s a nasty image.

And where the crap is Chester anyway…?


Years ago, there was some Disney-smelling junket heavily promoting The Kid. From that I learned that WIllis took the role of Russ to be involved in a movie that his kids could watch with no grease. I guess after a stream of successful R-rated action/violent/weirdo movies like Pulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys, The Fifth Element, The Sixth Sense, and/or Unbreakable The Kid would be okay for Scout to see. She was 11 when Kid dropped. Okay there.

I’m willing to wager that Scout, Rumer et al knew Dad made his mark as a tough guy action type starring in defiantly R-rated movies. As well he did and still does. Kids ain’t dumb. Maybe the idea (ploy?) was to ingratiate his brood at take them on a family-friendy field trip. Is it a coincidene that Willis divorced from Demi Moore the year Kid was released? Probably. Makes me wonder though. Divorced dads circle the wagons often.

So what if this was a deperate plea. Before John McLane ever uttered a “Yippee-ky-ay, mofo” he was comedic actor. Really. I know. I’m just as surprised as you are. It’s hard to remember Wills as bumbling dick opposite Cybill Shepard on TV’s “Moonlighting.” Or his first starring movie role as loser-in-love paired against a very hot Kim Basinger in Blake Edwards’ screwball rom-com Blind Date (highly underrated in my book, esp if you dig Laurel & Hardy). Willis’ second onscreen role was in Sunset, a swipe at old school Westerns, where he played the role of Tom Mix, a bloated John Wayne-esque superstar who eventually quit Hollywood and ran away to join the circus. Literally. In simpler terms, Willis got his start as a clown. Then Hans and crew took over and looted Nakatomi Tower. Merry Xmas, an action stalwart is born, for good or for ill. What did Scout think, all too young to see Die Hard?

I’m betting nothing. Chances are she never saw Blind Date. Most of you didn’t either. Doesn’t matter. I’m also betting the laundry list above of Willis’ first foray into movies are on no one’s key Willis top tens. So for whatever reason—kiddies squealling or no—with Kid, Bruce jumped feet first back into the comedy meatgrinder. After over a decade of thrwarting terrorists, bouncing through time and rescuing his dad’s poop-stained watch it was time for a change. And, boy, Bruce needed a refresher course on how to use those atrophied comic chops.

For being promoted as an effervescent family comedy, Kid sure is dour. That’s what I tasted at the outset. A sort of mean-spiritedness. We understand Russ is not a happy camper, but to let his regret and passive-aggressive bullying drive his character does not a family friendly protag make. Willis is the anti-Willis here; no clowning to be seen. Heck, even John McClane was a warmer Joe than fussy Russ, and folks were trying to kill him. So now we’re supposed to get behind this guy ready to crack up? Yep. All lights are go. It’s a Disney film, after all. Do not stray from the course.

It’s a drudge, I won’t lie, but Kid is a drag from go, mostly from Willis being such a Sour Patch Kid. Between the decade of Blind Date and Die Hard 2, Willis lost all but his basal comic skills (read: one liners) essential to a flick like this. If Willis’ duty was to star in a family film with his kids in mind, chances are his kids didn’t want to smell and acrid flak. That being said, Willis is too brittle here to make a polite impression. Right, all our jobs suck, including the ones that do indeed suck. The action genre has been kind to Bruce, but not to his range. Watching this makes one pine for David Addison. Willis’ rusty gift for comedy is, well, very rusty here.

Speaking of Rusty, here we have an alternate, and a much needed foil at that. Young Spencer Breslin. Genius role of casting. Cutting to the meat, I expected the diminutive version of Russ to be petulant, whiny and addicted to his own boogers. I was pleasantly surprised, nay, shocked that Breslin was not only down to earth but dare I say endearing and (urgh) cute. Remember how Tom Hanks nailed the whole man-child schtick in Big? Right, except here with Rusty it flipped the script. How can such an honest, nice, mostly well-behaved 9-year old morph into the crank that is Russ?

Like I said, foil. Russ would not be such a hard case without Rusty nagging is aging ass. The movie’s called The Kid, right? That kid ain’t Rusty. It’s the idea Rusty represents to Russ: curiosty and wonder. Image consultant? Yeah, that’s a thing. Molding reality to fit your quarter. Artifice. Kids don’t pull that. If some yowwen steps up and tells you flat out you’re fat, you are. Enjoy those Cheetos, m’man. Breslin comes more across like, “Can I have some Cheetos?”

Russ can’t make a viable smoothie from Cheetos. You get it.

(BTW, Mortimer is totally out of place here. She’s the female. She’s just there. If you’re not doing anything to actviely drive the plot, back to the trailer with ya. That’s all. Moving on.)

This is a time-out-of-joint morality tale. Russ is a jerk, and his life reflects that. Rusty’s a simple kid, seeing the world how it is and how it should be a lot cooler. Right, right, right. If only Russ would owe up to his junior version and aim to change his wicked ways, would Rusty get…what? His toy plane back? The coolest dog ever? Nope. No wishes to made on Rusty’s star. Just Russ wrangling with his believed wasted past. It’s kinda bitter sweet, but it mostly tastes bitter.

Speaking of bitter (me? Nah), there are some pummeling fouls to Kid‘s execution. Drum roll…the pacing! It’s poor. I mean desititude. Things are waaay too drawn out, like we the audience are too slow to get what’s going on. Truth be told, most of the time wtching the movie I was, “Where are we going with this?” Kid meanders, and if you’re a thinking person you’re quoting Python halfway through the second act: “Get on with it!” The film’s all languid and lazy for its own ends, but to what? Zzz.

All that rot about pacing brings us to the third act. It takes forever to heat up, but it does. Thankfully. Some just reward crawling through this dour kiddie flick. If the only rest of the movie was like this, because the finale was actually pretty satisfying in it’s standard Disney way. For those of you wringiing your hands in anguish for the first two-thirds of the movie wondering when, oh when will Bruce ever warm up to Rusty, your patience is sort of rewarded.

We get to the bottom of this time-hopping mystery with gusto and info overload. After an interminable slog through “are we there yet?” director Turtletaub finally lets up have the scales fall from our tired eyes and see the drama and humor the story taunted us with all those zillion hours before. Chemistry blooms between our May-November pair of Billy Pilgrims. The guts of the matter is smeared all around, barely hinted at earlier. That doofy biplane bit gets explained (sort of). It’s like a three ring circus with all three rings shoved together into one big wad. I have to admit, I kinda enjoyed the resolution, disjointed as it was.

Sigh. “If I only knew then what I know now.” There’s a classic. Well, you gotta give Kid credit for turning that saw on is dull blade. Rusty knew more than Russ forgot on his march to middle age. Sure, unconvential, and at many times a bit to conceptual and overreaching. If this was the family flick Willis was aiming for, the scenarists should’ve steered clear from Sartre as a refernece.

Ah, well. Got the dog, right?

(That was not a spoiler! You saw that crapola coming a lightyear away!)


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Too. Damned. Slow. Especilly for a family film. From Disney, no less. Bad dog. Bad, bad dog.


Stray Observations…

  • “Nice tie.” Ugh.
  • Willis is a lefty? Huh.
  • “We are up.”
  • There’s a diner on the airstrip? Of course not (wink).
  • “I don’t have time to go crazy!”
  • The bullying thing. Is Russ’ grown up job a passive-agressive version of smacking down playground thugs from recesses long gone? I’d like to believe so.
  • So that’s the best way to use a treadmill. Smart kid.
  • Hey! Melissa McCarthy! Gotta start somewhere, right?
  • “Holy smokes!” That’s an expression which needs to come back.

Next Installment…

Colin Hanks needs to escape dull Orange County, and his enrollment into Stanford might be just the ticket out.


 

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