It'd be tempting to argue that the back story behind the Tom Arnold-befriends-rich-kid with cerebral palsy vehicle The Kid & I is far more compelling than anything onscreen except that the film's back story pretty much is what's onscreen. The film's creation story doubles as its basic premise in a perversely post-modern twist to one of the strangest vanity projects this side of Jerry Lewis' The Day The Clown Cried.
Writer/star Tom Arnold stars as an unmistakably Tom Arnold-like has-been, a once mildly popular comic actor famous for his role as Arnold Schwarzenegger's wisecracking sidekick in True Lies and prominent ex-wife (Linda Hamilton). As the film opens Arnold has bottomed out professionally and personally and is diligently planning suicide when he gets a call from agent Henry Winkler, who plays essentially the same strangely likeable sleazebag he essayed so memorably on Arrested Development.
Winkler tells Arnold to put off suicide temporarily so he can write and star in an action-comedy with one small catch Arnold doesn't discover until much later: the True Lies-like action-adventure is designed exclusively as wish fulfillment for Eric Gores, the True Lies-obsessed son of divorced billionaire Joe Mantegna and will be shown only at his upcoming birthday party. Oh and Gores, the son of real-life billionaire (and The Kid & I financier) Alec Gores, has cerebral palsy. This all closely mirrors the film's actual origins: the elder Gores hired real-life neighbor Arnold to write and star in The Kid &I; as an insanely elaborate present for his beloved son. Ah, the super-rich, they are not like you or me.
The Kid & I pretty much exists for one reason and one reason only: to indulge the show-biz fantasies of a wealthy man's son. Now there are far worse reasons to make a movie. Epic Movie, for example, seems to exist solely to gauge the gullibility/stupidity of the moviegoing public. The Kid & I is such a disarmingly sweet movie that subjecting it to exacting critical standards is like heckling the Special Olympics. Sure The Kid & I is essentially Make A Wish Foundation: The Movie but it's probably the best movie that could have been made with this cast and premise.
My father, a devout Jew, is a big fan of Joel Osteen, an oppressively wholesome pastor with blinding white teeth who presides over one of those mega-churches the size of a small island nation and soft-pedals the gospel in gazillion-selling books and videos. "Nathan I know you're probably skeptical about Osteen because of the whole Jesus thing but honestly his spiels are 95-percent self-help and only five percent Jesus!" my dad has told me repeatedly. At that point I generally remind him that the self-help part isn't any more appealing to me than the shout-outs to Jesus.
Similarly, I don't expect you, dear reader, to be particularly enthused when I tell you that there's actually some really funny, gleefully self-effacing Tom Arnold Hollywood satire alongside all the empowering messages about believing in yourself and following your dreams even when they cost daddy millions. Hey, the Tom Arnolds and Penelope Spheerises of the world don't come cheap.
Richard Edson, Sonic Youth's original drummer and a Jim Jarmusch favorite, has a clever supporting turn as Arnold's alcoholic hobo of a professional assistant and there's something utterly endearing about the film's complete lack of pretension. The Kid & I sets its sights so low it almost can't help but succeed. After all the film-within-the-film is meant solely one for a one-time-only screening so The Kid & I's theatrical release, however minor, already qualifies as a big step up.
Like Billy Jack Goes To Washington, the other half of Vanity Week here at My Year Of Flops, The Kid & I functions as a kind of cinematic fantasy camp where one very lucky soul gets to remake one of their favorite movies. But such hubris is a lot more endearing coming from an exuberant, unself-conscious teenager than a brooding, egomaniacal middle-aged auteur. I can't in good conscience recommend The Kid & I as anything beyond a surprisingly painless curiosity but it's a failure with heart and soul.
Failure, Fiasco Or Secret Success: Failure