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Not Just For Kids


*The Kid (PG)

Since I don't watch television, I had no idea until I walked into the theater that The Kid is being marketed by Disney to the 12-and-under crowd. Instead, I vaguely expected some Charlie Chaplin reprise. I figured it out quickly, however, when I was greeted by that special sound that is 200 little soprano voices talking about the knots they tied at day camp, or the slug picked apart by cousin Max.

I still don't understand, though, why it is being marketed to kids. Bruce Willis plays Russell Duritz, a very successful image consultant who is tough, difficult and sometimes downright mean. Two days before his 40th birthday, Russell is visited by Rusty (Spencer Breslin), the eight-year-old incarnation of himself. Rusty wants to be a pilot when he grows up, he wants a family, he wants a dog. "What?" he exclaims when he finds out how Russell lives alone in an austere modernist house. "I'm 40 years old, I don't have a family, I'm not a pilot, and I don't have a dog? I knew it. I'm a loser!"

Despite the old Hollywood axiom to never play opposite kids or animals, Willis does a fine job holding his own next the pudgy, lisping, and very cute Breslin. He manifests both an ease and a certain graciousness that recalls some of the best of Shirley Temple's co-stars (I couldn't help contrast his performance with Kim Basinger's recent showing in I Dreamed of Africa where she looked stilted and pained each time she was on screen with a child). Lily Tomlin is seriously undercast as Willis' long-suffering secretary, but then, she'd be undercast as anything other than her fabulous comic self.

There is nothing in The Kid that would give the least offense to a parent of a child under 18, but, if you plan to take your kids, be prepared to explain a lot. The Kid is really about the pains of childhood that lead each of us to become the people that fell short of our dreams. In other words, it is far more of an adult film than a child's.

While the juvenile audience at Tinseltown's Sunday night preview tittered at some of the sight gags and one-liners, I also heard a lot of "what happened, Dad?" at the film's crucial moments. The time traveling conceit makes for a complicated plot that only exacerbates the problem.

Don't let that keep you or your kids away, however. The Kid is a decent movie about our lost hopes and the possibilities for redemption, wrapped up in some funny and touching scenes. Don't go expecting a great coming of age film like My Life as a Dog or superb social commentary like The Kid, Chaplin style. Keep your average Hollywood expectations with you and you will be pleasantly entertained.

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