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Kid & I, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Tom Arnold goes meta"
4 stars

With its blend of snarky Hollywood in-joke cynicism and tear-jerking sentiment, “The Kid and I” plays like a head-on collision between “Adaptation” and the Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon. On the one hand, it goes for meta-movie hijinks in which writer-star Tom Arnold gleefully skewers both his career and his public persona while on the other, it also wants to tell a story about overcoming tragic adversity in the most straightforward manner possible. The strangest thing about it is that what should have been an indigestible mess of two utterly incompatible approaches almost sort of works. It isn’t perfect but it is so oddly sincere that I found myself growing a sort of affection for it even as all common sense was telling me to think otherwise.

Playing off of how he has been perceived over the years in the media, Arnold plays Bill Williams, an actor who once had a big role as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sidekick in “True Lies” but who is now on the skids and remembered only for his ugly divorce from his more successful wife, a big-shot producer played by Linda Hamilton. (The real Arnold, on the other hand, has carved out a niche in recent years as a reliable supporting presence in films as varied as “Cradle 2 the Grave” and the recent “Happy Endings,” where his dramatic turn was the highlight.) In fact, the film opens with Bill preparing to commit suicide–he even has his tombstone and obituary laid out–but he can’t even quite pull that off; he invites the homeless Guy (Richard Edson) into his home to take his clothes, only to see his guest polish off the pills and booze without any discernable effect. The next day, his long-lost agent (Henry Winkler) pops up with an offer that sounds too good to be true–a mysterious benefactor is offering him $500,000 to write and co-star in a quasi-sequel to his biggest hit that will be titled “Two Spies” and have him appearing alongside newcomer Aaron Roman (Eric Gores). Thrilled with the new lease on his career, Bill agrees.

A few days later, Bill goes to his first production meeting and learns the rest of the story behind the film. Aaron is actually an 18-year-old kid with cerebral palsy and the film is being financed by his wealthy father (Joe Mantegna) as a birthday present to fulfill his son’s dream of being a movie star in the sequel to his favorite film. At first, Bill is crushed that is hoped-for comeback is little more than the world’s most expensive party favor but he finds himself gradually beginning to develop a certain affection for the kid and decides to stick it out. As the kid comes up with any number of weirdo suggestions–he wants to save animals, parachute out of an airplane and make out with starlet Arielle Kebbel (playing herself) in a hot tub–Bill does what he can to work them in and before long, the film, produced by Bill’s ex (in one of the film’s many in-jokes, this means that Hamilton, one of James Cameron’s ex-wives, is essentially playing another one of his ex’s–produced Gale Ann Hurd) and directed by Penelope Spheeris (the director of the actual film), is up and running. After a while, though, Aaron’s physical limitations begin to overtake him and his mother (Brenda Strong) wants to take him back home to Indiana and it is up to Bill to save the day.

Look, I am fully aware of just how bizarre “The Kid and I” sounds–and I haven’t even mentioned the presence of Shannon Elizabeth, who plays Aaron’s sexy stepmom and who gets to deliver both a sentimental speech and a gratuitous bikini shot (though sadly not simultaneously)–but the strangest thing about it is that a good portion of the film seems to have been inspired by real-life events. According to the production materials, Arnold was Gores’ real-life neighbor and was inspired by his determination in the face of cerebral palsy to write this film. A lot of favors were no doubt called in (including cameos from the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, wrestler Goldberg and a pair of high-profile people who shall remain nameless) and the whole thing seems to have been simply as a labor of love–the only difference between “The Kid and I” and “Two Spies” is that the former is actually heading out into theaters.

Because it cuts so close to the bone, I suppose that a legitimate question could be asked about whether or not the film is being exploitative of Gores and his condition. While I can understand why some might feel that way, I never quite got the sense that he was being used in that way. First of all, the entire film is clearly a fantasy from start to finish and therefore, it is easier to indulge it more than if it had been a more straightforward drama. More importantly, it is a film that deals with the kind of fantasy that most of its potential viewers will have indulged in from time to time–who among us hasn’t dreamed from time to time of getting the chance to star in a movie alongside a favorite star? Then there is the fact that Gores is actually kind of sweet and charming in what is, according to IMDB, his first performance. He may not be an “actor” in the classic sense of the word but he does come off as so doggone likable that you find yourself rooting for him and understanding why a bunch of well-known actors would appear in a film that otherwise sounds like a big-screen production from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Frankly, the only person whose life is being exploited here is Arnold’s and he tears into himself with gleeful abandon. He knows that he has been the butt of jokes ever since his highly publicized marriage and divorce to Roseanne made him, in the words of one wag, “the Yoko Ono of comedy” and he demonstrates an eagerness to join in the fun. There are few actors out there who would be willing to make a film in which they are described as “the funniest actor-aside from Adam Sandler!” and whose worries about looking ridiculous are met with an incredulous “Didn’t you once make a film with Steven Segal?” (Even the end credits mock him–the ASPCA assurance that no animals were harmed during the production also informs us that Arnold gained 10 pounds during that time.) As with Gores, what he does here is less acting than playing a thinly veiled version of himself and in this case, it was the right decision–you could have hired a more polished actor but it is doubtful that he would be able to approximate the easygoing rapport that Arnold and Gores share. Even when the film begins to overflow with mawkish sentiment, Arnold keeps it from getting too unbearable.

This is not to suggest that “The Kid and I” is some kind of low-key masterpiece. In many aspects, it is a messy and amateurish work–it has more than its share of dead spots and what would seem to be a key plot element–the sticky situation that begins to develop when Aaron begins to genuinely fall for co-star Arielle Kebbel (a starlet who once played Arnold’s sexy daughter in “Soul Plane” and who looks like a genetic splice between Jessica Alba and Mandy Moore)–is abandoned without ever really being dealt with. However, it has some big laughs scattered throughout (I liked the suicidal Bill wondering if he would rate a spot on the “dead people Oscar montage”) and its heart is definitely in the right place. If you have read this review to this point and think that it sounds unbearable, you should definitely stay far away from it. If, on the other hand, my description has intrigued you even slightly, it just might work for you to the same degree that it did for me.

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originally posted: 12/02/05 15:39:32
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User Comments

3/03/08 Jack Sommersby Too soft-edged and inoffensive to make much of an impression. 2 stars
12/29/06 notmoby1 Extremely bizarre, uneven, but quite infectious movie. Think of the tone of "Pumpkin". 4 stars
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  02-Dec-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Oct-2006



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