Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ten years and 25 minutes

This is the seventh in my Double Jeopardy series, which runs on Tuesdays. I'm trying to figure out if I was crazy for liking movies most people didn't like, by watching them a second time.

It took me nearly ten years to watch the final 25 minutes of Disney's The Kid. Therefore, I spent nearly ten years thinking it's a much better movie than it actually is.

I didn't think I'd missed that many minutes back in the fall of 2000, when I watched the movie on the plane from New York to Los Angeles. I can't remember which trip it was, though I think it was the October one -- the first of two trips (the second coming at New Year's) that convinced me it was time to move to Los Angeles, which I did the following spring. My airline made the strange choice of playing two movies for the five-hour trip, something I had never experienced before and haven't experienced since. However, they started the second movie -- Disney's The Kid -- too late in the trip to be able to finish it.

From the pacing of the narrative, it looked like there were 10, 15 minutes at most remaining in the movie when they shut it off. It had already reached the crisis at the end of the second act, and I had a pretty good idea how the remainder of the third act was going to unfold.

At least, I thought I did. Fast forward ten years.

But before I get to that, let me tell you just how much I liked the 80 minutes of The Kid I did see. Quite simply, I was tickled pink by it. The story follows Russ Duritz (Bruce Willis), a Scrooge-like image consultant living in Los Angeles, who's about to turn 40. He's handsome and successful, and has a pretty almost-girlfriend (Emily Mortimer) whom he keeps disappointing. His world gets shaken up when he is suddenly confronted by the eight-year-old manifestation of himself (Spencer Breslin), who doesn't know how he's gotten there, but is definitely flesh and blood, as everyone else can see him and interact with him. Young Rusty is dumpy and has a lisp, and older Russ can only see bad memories of the child he was. However, it's soon clear that Rusty is there to teach him to be a better person, to remind him of the good parts of himself that he walked away from when he became this allegedly more successful human being.

Sounds Capra-esque if you're being generous, cheesy if you're not, right? Actually, not really. Director Jon Turteltaub gives the proceedings a lot of heart, but it's Breslin who steals this show. The child actor -- who was also great in the second Santa Clause movie -- has impeccable comic timing for being so young. Almost everything he says or does inspires giggles, and he gets the most out of Willis, who has always been good when acting harried. Their odd couple pairing is highly watchable, and Mortimer has great chemistry with both of them, most notably young Breslin. Add in a funny turn from the great Lily Tomlin as Russ' assistant and a nice cameo from Jean Smart as a local anchorwoman, and you've got a warm family movie that actually reminds adults of a time when they didn't feel so cynical toward movies with simple and heartfelt messages.

Okay, so that was the part I saw.

(Spoilers, as if you care ...)

Right around the time the airline shut off the video for landing, what would have happened is that Russ and Rusty would have driven through a tunnel somewhere in Los Angeles, and come out the other side wearing 1968 clothing and driving a 1968 Porsche convertible (as opposed to Russ' 2000 Porsche convertible). Then they would have driven to a schoolyard to witness young Rusty fight a bully -- a bully who knocked him over with one punch the first time these events played out, directly resulting in years of loserdom. Of course, since old Rusty has taught young Rusty to fight in the few days they've been hanging out, now young Rusty beats up the bully -- which doesn't seem to be the exact right message, but this isn't the worst part. Then it turns out that this is not the crucial moment that made Russ such a self-loather -- it turns out that Rusty got in trouble for winning this fight (but did he actually win the first time? I'm confused) and that his cancer-stricken mother had to report to the school to pick him up. Then later on, his father shakes him and says "Are you trying to kill her more quickly?" or something similarly scarring. Apparently, the adult realization that he wasn't responsible for his mother's death (mind you, none of this had been discussed in the film until this point) is the trigger to starting to approach his life differently. Russ and Rusty end up at Santa Monica Airport at a diner called the Skyway Diner, where they see an alternate version of Russ as a mustachioed pilot, with the dog that young Rusty always said he wanted, and Mortimer's Amy in tow as his wife. Call me crazy, but this mustachioed Bruce Willis does not really seem like an improvement on the one we've known throughout the movie -- he just looks cheesier.

The whole movie is based on a fantastical premise, of course -- we're supposed to believe that Russ is being visited by an eight-year-old version of himself, and that several other people accept this on face value. However, as far as suspension of disbelief goes, it's a lot easier to accept this one basic premise than to have to accept the second one, that Russ kind of time travels back to his own childhood, and this creates an alternate timeline for Russ that may just be imaginary. We never quite understand in what reality pilot Russ with the mustache exists, and where that Russ goes. But young Rusty does finally disappear, and old Russ makes amends with Amy. The end.

So yeah, I really didn't like the ending. And so for the last ten years, I've been praising this movie a lot, when I should have been praising it only a little. How much did I praise it? Well, I ranked the first 80 minutes of Disney's The Kid as my 12th favorite movie of 2000. Out of the 58 I saw in time to qualify. Want to know what titles finished behind it in the rankings? How about Requiem for a Dream at #13? How about The Cell at #17? (Both of those would be top 10 if I re-did the rankings today.) How about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at #20? Yeah, I'll call myself out when it's justified.

So thank goodness for Double Jeopardy, as I can finally finish watching Disney's The Kid, and finally set the record straight -- in my own head, at least.

Double Jeopardy Verdict, Disney's The Kid: If the movie had wound down in the present tense with merely the conventional "Look what we can learn from the innocence of a child" message, it would have been a real winner, rather than just okay.


Don Handsome said...

I experienced something similar when I first saw Disturbing Behavior in the theater and the projectionist inadvertently skipped a reel. It was five years before I caught up to that movie again and when I saw the whole thing put together it went from being weird and delightfully incongruent to just another stupid teen conformity flick.

Great post though…cracked me up.

Mike Lippert said...

I remember loving this movie the first time I saw it many years ago. Maybe I need to rewatch it too.