DISNEY'S THE KID —* 1/2 — Bruce Willis, Spencer Breslin, Emily Mortimer, Lily Tomlin, Jean Smart, Chi McBride, Daniel Von Bargen, Dana Ivey; rated PG (brief violence, mild vulgarity); Carmike 12, Cottonwood Mall, Plaza 5400 and Ritz 15 Theaters; Century Theatres 16; Cinemark Jordan Landing Theaters; Gateway 8 Cinemas; Loews Cineplex South Towne Center and Trolley Square Mall Cinemas; Redwood Drive-in (with "Gone in Sixty Seconds").
Well, it turns out Walt Disney Pictures doesn't need to find old television series or kids cartoons to make bad live-action movies after all.
And despite its title, "Disney's The Kid" is not a remake of the 1921 Charlie Chaplin silent classic, though it's hard to imagine how the film could have been any worse even if it had been.
Suffice it to say there are greeting cards less manipulative and more genuine than this saccharine comedy-fantasy, which squanders every opportunity it has to be meaningful and instead dollops out cheap sentimentality by the spoonful.
That shouldn't come as a complete surprise, considering the movie comes from filmmaker Jon Turteltaub, whose work has been all over the cinematic map, ranging from charming ("While You Were Sleeping") to wildly inconsistent ("Phenomenon") to completely wretched ("Instinct").
It's also one more valley in the roller-coaster career of star Bruce Willis, who has taken on one of his most underdeveloped roles here, that of self-absorbed image consultant Russ Duritz.
Russ is good at telling others what to do, but his own life's a mess. For one thing, he finds himself unable to communicate with his estranged father (Daniel Von Bargen) and he continues to blow his chances at romance with his pretty employee Amy (Brit Emily Mortimer, last seen in "Scream 3").
He's also become convinced that he's being stalked, which turns out to be true, partially. Somehow, an 8-year-old version of Russ, who calls himself Rusty (abrasive newcomer Spencer Breslin), has wound up in his future. And neither of them is happy about it.
So the two spend their time bickering about which of them is the bigger loser — with Russ trying to get the pudgy Rusty into shape, and Rusty pressuring Russ to change the scope of his relationship with Amy.
Eventually the two figure out that they have to work together if they're going to get Rusty back to his own "time," or to be more accurate, his reality.
The material has more than a few things in common with similar fantasies, such as "Big." However, thanks to Audrey Wells' irksome script, it doesn't even come close to matching the quality of that much better film.
Turteltaub is no help, either, since his clumsy direction ensures that many scenes are played so loud and frenetic that they're headache-inducing. Others are so sluggishly paced that the film becomes boring.
And he's unable to motivate Willis, who seems uneasy with the prospect of playing an (at least initially) unsympathetic character. Also, Willis has a lot more chemistry with underutilized supporting cast member Jean Smart than he does with Mortimer.
Speaking of underused, with the exception of Willis and Breslin, few of the cast members receive enough screen time to make their parts worthwhile, especially Lily Tomlin, who has a thankless role as Russ's frustrated assistant.
And in all honesty, the absolute worst thing about the movie may be Marc Shaiman's naggingly insistent score, which telegraphs each cloying moment before the scene even starts.
"Disney's The Kid" is rated PG for brief violence (a schoolyard fight and some slapstick) and mild vulgarity (including some toilet humor). Running time: 101 minutes.