Sun, 03 Sep 2000

Bruce Willis warms hearts in Disney's 'The Kid'

By Joko E.H. Anwar

JAKARTA (JP): Bruce Willis again is paired with a kid following the hugely successful The Sixth Sense, and the result is amusing, sensitive and unexpectedly involving.

In Disney's The Kid, Willis is Russ Duritz, a successful image consultant whose job is to help high-profile people such as politicians and sport figures deceive the public by covering their faults and putting forth angelic images.

However, in the eyes of his assistant and his secretary, it is Duritz's image that needs consulting; he is rude, manipulative and will use anything, including children, to do his job.

For his clients there is always time, but for his widowed father it is always next time. For some unknown reason he hates his lonely father, who just wants some time with his son.

After a series of strange occurrences, Duritz's 8-year-old self magically appears in his house. After proving to himself he is not seeing a ghost, the adult Duritz comes to understand the kid is actually himself.

But the kid is not happy with the adult version of himself, who has no friends, no wife and no dog.

The adult, however, despises the kid for he reminds him of everything he hated about himself when he was a kid: clumsy, chubby, a target of humiliation from school bullies, a weak cry- baby.

When the kid cries after being taken for a speedy ride in a Porsche, the adult teases him: "Somebody call a waaambulance ...." Of course, he does the same to his clients when they cry in consulting sessions.

But soon the adult and the kid begin to understand more about their one self.

On paper, the film looks like a project to cash in on Willis' success in last year's hit sleeper The Sixth Sense, which paired Willis with Haley Joel Osment.

That highly suspenseful, smart ghost film landed him an MTV Movie Award for Best Male Performance and the film garnered six Oscar nominations.

However, The Kid stands on its own. It is heart-warming, moving and sweet, qualities which could lead one to mistake this for a cutesy flick.

However, despite being a Disney production, the film is not really for children.

The kid here, played by 8-year-old Spencer Breslin, is adorable yet a bit edgy. He is not Osment, but he does not have to be.

Breslin's portrayal of a kid who dreams of a better life when he grows up is effective enough to make the film involving, and there are a lot of funny moments between the adult and the kid.

Writer Audrey Wells previously penned the smart and charming The Truth About Cats and Dogs.

It is also a delight to see how Duritz and his secretary Janet, played wonderfully by Lily Tomlin, interact with each other. Every time Duritz tyrannizes her, Janet responds with amusing riffs.

Emily Mortimer, who plays Duritz's assistant, provides another charm in the film as a woman who still believes there is a child's innocence in Duritz.

The film could have been simply a rework of the standard back- to-the-past story, but instead it is a journey for Duritz to learn about himself, including why he is so angry.

At first, proud Duritz is convinced the strange phenomenon of the kid showing up in his house is meant for him to help his younger self learn to stand up to school bullies.

So he asks help from one of his professional boxer clients to train the little lad. But when he and the kid manage to go back to the time when he was still young, the lessons are more for him to learn.

The film understandably avoids the usual complications of how changing the past will lead to extreme changes in the present, since the change is only in Duritz's view of himself.

When little Russ actually stands up to the bullies to help a three-legged dog called Tripod, his ill mother has to pick him up at school. His father is extremely angry with him because his mother is not supposed to get out of bed.

"Do you want your mother to die?" his father says to him.

The adult Duritz believes in his mind it was him who caused his mother to die and it is these words from his father that make him think this.

"He's just afraid because he does not know how to raise us alone," the adult Duritz tells the kid and himself at the end.

There are some distracting moments, however, one of which is when the young Duritz decides to go with the adult instead of spending these last moments with his dying mother.

In a scene close to the end, the elder Duritz meets his two younger selves and tries to explain the strange phenomenon, but instead only succeeds in confusing everyone, mostly the audience.

But the film manages to make the audience forgive its weaknesses and in a light way asks audience a serious question: "Are you what you wanted you to be?"

So imagine that you are turning 40 and generally feeling great about yourself. Will you think that your life is not exactly the kind of life you dreamt about when you were growing up? Will you just settle for what you have and forget about your dreams?