1½ stars (out of four)
The lasting image in the Tom Arnold vehicle "The Kid & I," is not one director Penelope Spheeris puts up on screen.
Rather, it's the mental picture of producer, screenwriter and star Arnold on the phone, calling in every favor he's ever been owed.
"Shaq? Hi, this is Tom. Tom Arnold. From `The Best Damn Sports Show Ever.' Married and divorced Roseanne Barr. Right, that Tom. Anyhoo want to be in my movie? I've already got Linda Hamilton ."
In "The Kid & I," Arnold ostensibly plays himself in Bill Williams, an aging comic who once starred (as Arnold did in real life) opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in spy film "True Lies."Bill plans to spend his last dollar on his last day, and in a strong opening, lines up booze and pills next to mail-ready press releases about his suicide. He has even had a tombstone carved to mark the occasion. But when a homeless man steals most of his pills, the Grim Reaper gives Bill a pass.
He's awakened by his agent (Henry Winkler, playing a version of his scheming lawyer character from "Arrested Development") who offers him a second chance. A local millionaire (Joe Mantegna) wants Bill to write and star in a movie just like "True Lies," starring his teenage son Aaron (Eric Gores) in the Schwarzenegger role.
For $400,000, Bill can't say "no," even though he tries to when he finds out the 17-year-old has cerebral palsy.
In real life, Gores is a young actor with cerebral palsy who, according to the movie's press kit, studied acting for five years at the Lee Strasberg School. It's puzzling then, that he chooses to initially play Aaron as a low-functioning, over-enthusiastic handicapped stereotype.
True, Arnold's script and Gores' own performance build dignity and sophistication in the character, but this rocky introduction clouds the entire film. In this scene, Arnold's dark comedy shifts to sitcom mode, complete with trite lessons about life and the value of family.
Instead of creating a character and pursuing something wholly original, Arnold trades on his small corner of fame, and the film repeatedly reminds us that he was in "True Lies," through movie clips and even a poster on Aaron's bedroom wall.
Neil Patrick Harris of "Doogie Howser, M.D." fame used his pop celebrity to poke fun of his image--and therefore reshape it--in "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle." But Arnold ignores the precedent (though he does take a shot at himself for starring in a Steven Seagal film), and plays to type--a lunkheaded, overweight Everyman trying to fight obsolescence through wit alone.
This strategy was his strength on television, and though he's made strides in movies since ("Animal Factory," Don Roos' upcoming "Happy Endings"), Arnold backslides, and his name-dropping doesn't do much for his credibility or the film. At a certain point, self-deprecation begins to feel like severely low self-esteem.
Though "The Kid & I" falters as both a comedy and an After School Special, it works as a rather touching episode of "This is Your Life," with a parade of cameos from Arnold's career that'll coax a sniffle or two from his family.
'The Kid & I'
Directed by Penelope Spheeris; screenplay by Tom Arnold; cinematography by Robert Seaman; art direction by Nanci Roberts; music by Damon Fox; edited by Jan Northrop and John Wesley Whitton; produced by Penelope Spheeris, Tom Arnold and Brad Wyman. A Slow Hand Releasing, Slowhand Cinema Releasing and Wheels Up Films release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:33. PG-13 (for some language, crude humor and drug references).
Bill Williams - Tom Arnold
Eric Gores - Aaron Roman
Guy Prince - Richard Edson
Davis Roman - Joe Mantegna
Johnny Bernstein - Henry Winkler
Shelby Roman - Shannon Elizabeth
Susan Mandeville - Linda Hamilton