What advice would you give your 8-year-old self?
Me, I'd tell him to convince mom and dad to buy a ton of that newfangled IBM stock. But such practical matters are far from the minds of the creators of "Disney's The Kid," which offers us Bruce Willis as a self-absorbed Los Angeles image consultant in serious need of getting in touch with his inner child.
So guess who shows up on his couch one day?
"The Kid" is a pleasantly lightweight confection that stumbles only when director Jon Turteltaub allows a few too many heartstrings to be pulled, or when the filmmakers get too caught up in their own inventiveness. Oh, and let's drop that "Disney's" stuff from the title. I doubt anyone will be confusing this with Charles Chaplin's "The Kid," or John Mark Robinson's 1990 thriller, "The Kid."
Russ Duritz (Willis) makes a fortune out of inventing lies about people and getting others to believe him. When the rich owner of a sports team reneges on a promise to donate money to charity, for instance, he stages a photo op where darling kids throw pies in his face, thus making the rich guy lovable and his transgressions forgivable.
All this is exacting something of a toll on Russ, however. He's developed a nervous tick, his girlfriend thinks he's a lout, he's estranged from his dad and he's just an all-around unpleasant guy to be around.
This being a movie, there's always movie magic to help things out. In this case, it comes in the form of an 8-year-old named Rusty (an extremely winning Spencer Breslin), who's pudgy, speaks with a lisp, gets beat up in the schoolyard and dreams of being an airplane pilot. One day, he shows up on Russ' couch - the movie never explains how he got there, much less how he gets past Russ' major-league security system - and commences acting cute and adorable.
It takes a while, but eventually Russ realizes that Rusty is himself as a kid, and the two begin building a relationship. It's awkward at first; Russ has taken great pains over the years to forget his childhood and has less than no desire to relive the past. But things get better when Rusty meets Russ' girlfriend, Amy (Emily Mortimer), who realizes that this is the man ... er, boy that she fell in love with.
If only Russ could be more like Rusty, she sighs. If only I knew what this kid was doing here, Russ sighs. If only my 40-year-old self wasn't such a loser, sighs Rusty.
Bruce and Spencer are wonderful together (as he proved in "The Sixth Sense," Willis works great with kids), and "The Kid" has great fun with Russ and Rusty as they size up each other. Neither is happy with what they see. Russ sees in Rusty all the things he spent a lifetime covering up: the pudgy, insecure child who was fodder for the play-yard bully and who made up for a disappointing childhood by becoming a workaholic. As for Rusty, he can't see a thing about Russ he likes: He doesn't fly planes, he isn't married and he doesn't own a dog.
The movie also gets a fine supporting performance from Lily Tomlin as Russ' long-suffering secretary, while Mortimer gets to act cute and spunky - the antithesis of Russ, but perfect for Rusty.
Still, "The Kid" occasionally misfires. For one thing, the opening sequence, designed to show what a pompous jerk Russ is, doesn't do that at all. While he may be brusque, his actions are perfectly reasonable - especially when he's trapped at an airport news counter, behind a woman who's left her money in one of a dozen or so carry-on bags. It's tough to see why this guy needs much changing; in fact, it's only when he's around the overly pixie-ish Amy that he needs a personality transfusion.
And Turteltaub, who specializes in films that constantly threaten to drown in their own mawkishness ("While You Were Sleeping," "Phenomenon," "Cool Runnings"), follows suit here. Generally, the film pulls back in time. But not always, as in the scene where Rusty decides the only rational thing to do is propose to Amy himself.
Left to its own devices, "The Kid" offers an ingenious premise that, combined with the chemistry displayed by its two stars, should leave audiences wondering if maybe their inner child needs a little attention, too.
"Disney's The Kid"
Starring: Bruce Willis, Spencer Breslin and Lily Tomlin
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Released by: Walt Disney Pictures
Running time: 108 minutes
Rated PG (mild profanity)
Sun score: ** 1/2