Disney’s The Kid (2000)
Written by Audrey Wells
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Why am I doing this? I perfectly reasonable question to ask. As someone who watches lots of movies, reads up on actors, directors, writers, genres, etc., I will eventually come across movies I half-remember or never even knew got made. These are not low budget, indie picture but films with considerable financial backing, starring well-known performers, and distributed by major studios. Yet, they have been forgotten, very intentionally. There are approximately 700 English-language films released in the United States annually. With all of the quality control mechanisms and studio notes, we still get complete stinkers put on the big screen. Or the studio realizes in the wake of filming that they have just financed a disaster and try to cobble together something palatable in the editing room. Regardless, these movies are released and then systematically ignored by the people who made them, hoping general audiences allow them to fade into obscurity. Well, I’m here to watch them and write about them for this “We’d Rather You Forgot’ film series.
Russ Durwitz is a fast-talking image consultant in Los Angeles who has gone down the wrong path. He helps bad people defend their positions of power and enriches himself in the process. His dad is trying to reconnect with him, but Russ won’t have it. His love interest wants Russ to do the right thing, but he just can’t seem to. Then out of nowhere, and literally with zero explanation throughout the film, Russ’s younger self is transported to present-day L.A. The two embark on a journey of wacky hijinks and personal exploration that will result in Russ becoming a better person, getting a dog, and quitting his job to become a pilot.
There were some heavy-handed tropes from films in the 1990s that I’m sure we all recognize. First, you have an arrogant, cynical businessman who lost his way (Hook, Jerry Maguire). Then we add an unexplained magical event that is totally going to change our black-hearted protagonist’s ways. There’s a sassy assistant who isn’t putting up with the curmudgeonly main character. A love interest is plopped in who is the moral compass of our central figure, pointing out, in case the audience missed it, that our protagonist is terrible, but he could be good. This feels like it would be at home in the early 1990s, even up to 1995. But this movie came out in 2000, post-Bruce Willis’ turn in The Sixth Sense and just a few months before Unbreakable.
Speaking of Willis, I cannot fathom why he was cast in this role. The part of Russ Duritz demands someone who can walk the complicated line between charming and smarmy. Willis did that in work like Moonlighting, but this is a white-collar corporate guy, and Willis always did better as a working-class type, in my opinion. I could see Kevin Kline in this role or even Jim Carrey. Willis provides the same neutral emotional tone seen in his work with M. Night Shyamalan at this time, and when the script calls on him to be manic or breakdown, it is impossible not to see the acting happening. There’s a refrain during this breakdown scenes of a supporting character pointing out Russ’ prominent eye twitch, which is made frustrating because Willis appears to never attempt an eye twitch at all.
The biggest influencer in the tone of this film (and in Turteltaub’s overall body of work) appears to be Steven Spielberg. There’s a sequence where Russ pursues his younger self who is riding a bicycle, and it is shot very much like Spielberg scene in terms of cinematography, editing, and music. Overall, it reads as a knock-off, not up to the quality you’d expect from a Spielberg picture. There’s one thing you can say for the director of Close Encounters and E.T.E.T., that for as maudlin as he can get, it still has a powerful effect on even the most jaded of audience members. Because Disney’s The Kid is so concerned with shaping a type of film rather than telling a good story, it doesn’t know how to evoke genuine emotion from the viewer. Every moment feels formulaic.
There are still good elements in the picture. Spencer Breslin, as the younger Russ, is pretty good for a kid actor and emotes better than the veteran Willis. Lily Tomlin plays Russ’s assistant and does a decent job for what she’s given. Emily Mortimer, as the love interest, is earnest and committed to her performance. My favorite person involved in the film is Jean Smart, who plays a very minor but crucial role, popping up twice during the movie and stealing it away from Willis both times. If you are wanting to feel a throwback to the 1990s aesthetic or have an interest and watching a film made five years too late, then I think there is a lot to be said for Disney’s The Kid. I think it’s apt that the studio made its name part of the title because it helps to underline what a factory-produced movie this truly is.
What’s coming up in our “We’d Rather You Forgot” film series, you ask? Well that would be Tiptoes, Dragonball: Evolution, The Love Guru, She-Devil, and Old Dogs. This should be…interesting.