After Mercury Rising and The Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis teams up with another juvenile sidekick for this affable but sentimental exercise in middle-aged wish-fulfilment. This time, however, the kid in question is Bruce himself - - or at least a mini version of Bruce - - while the brooding intensity of his recent roles is replaced by the brash, smirking persona of old.
There's nothing like a kid to make work-obsessed fortysomethings realise that there's more to life than making money. When we first meet Willis, he's a heartless, manipulative cynic who brushes aside his clients' distress with the refrain ""Somebody call the waah-mbulance!"" and thinks nothing of exploiting children if it'll get one of his meal tickets out of a pickle.
Of course, it's only a matter of time before Russ realises the error of his ways. Why else would loyal secretary Lily Tomlin and assistant Emily Mortimer put up with his baloney? Before then, though, it's up to the geeky, gluttonous Breslin to remind the Brooster of the awkward cry-baby he once was: bullied at school, ignored by his dad and traumatised by his mother's premature death.
These formative experiences are depicted in unimaginative fashion, as Bruce zips back in time with Breslin and helps him face his demons. There's an element of Frequency in the way fantasy is used to solve psychological hang-ups, though that doesn't explain why everyone else in the film sees and interacts with Rusty. Isn't he meant to be a figment of Russ's imagination?
Why Disney is touting this as a kid's movie is anyone's guess: there's no adventure, comedy or Home Alone-style pratfalls. But Jon Turteltaub's follow-up to the lousy Instinct is not without its charms. The cast are above average, and Mortimer is quite fetching as the obligatory love interest.
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Not the stinker you might expect from the schmaltzy plot, though Spencer Breslin is no Haley Joel Osment. But Willis is in good form, and look out for Matthew Perry's cameo as a hippy computer whiz with a reluctance to shave.