Not long ago, when Bruce Willis needed a hit he'd fall back on a "Die Hard" picture. Now he's found another formula: Make a movie with a little boy, and hope for the same box-office rejuvenation that "The Sixth Sense" brought last year.
Fortunately for audiences, his latest kid-centered offering - called "The Kid," appropriately enough - is fine summer fun. Willis plays an image consultant named Russ, who gets other people's acts together while letting his own life become an antisocial mess. He needs a major dose of self-knowledge, and he gets it when an unlikely visitor arrives on the eve of his 40th birthday: Russ himself as a nine-year-old, equally mystified by their time-warping encounter but loaded with clues as to how he became the creep he is today.
"The Kid" gets much of its humor from the frustration Russ and his younger self, Rusty, feel toward each other's faults. What a klutzy kid I was, thinks Russ, flooded with memories he's spent 30 years trying to erase instead of understand. What a loser I'm destined to become, thinks Rusty, distressed that his future self is an unmarried workaholic who doesn't even have a dog. But both dimly realize there are lessons to be learned here, and eventually they try to fathom each other in ways that might weave their personalities into a better-than-ever whole.
Willis has a solid gift for comedy, and director Jon Turteltaub makes the most of it, rarely forcing laughs but letting them emerge from situations in their own good time. (One shudders to think what a cloying farce this might have been with Robin Williams in the spotlight.) Spencer Breslin is even better as the title character, cleverly blending crabbiness and congeniality. Together they make "The Kid" the standout comedy so far this season.
* Rated PG; contains mild vulgarity.
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