The plot’s got more holes than Swiss cheese, but tonight’s Disney movie “The Other Me,” based on the book “Me Two” by Mary C. Ryan, about a kid and his clone, is a rarity: a family movie that’s effervescent, good-natured and fun to watch. It also delivers--this is the biggest surprise--genuine moments of emotional depth.
Thirteen-year-old slacker Will (Andrew Lawrence) has the brains to go far, but he doesn’t care. His well-meaning, health-nut mom (Lori Hallier) and vague dad (Mark Taylor) threaten to send him to one of those high-discipline teen “boot camps” if he doesn’t shape up. Maybe a boffo science project will help. Taking the lazy route as usual, Will clips a comic book ad for an “Ocean Pups” kit.
These “Ocean Pups,” however--tiny fish eggs to hatch in water--contain a mysterious “hyperfast” cloning potion, courtesy of a couple of bumbling “Ocean Pups” mad scientists (Scott McCord and Joe Grifasi). A smidge of Will’s DNA in the tank and, oops, he creates his own clone (also played by Lawrence). Once over the shock, Will realizes he can kick back with no one the wiser if he sends his double, “Twoie,” to school in his place.
Will finds himself doing some soul-searching, though, when compassionate, sweet Twoie, who’s discovering the world with wide-eyed joy, becomes one of the smartest and best-liked kids in school.
In fantasy moments with underlying gentle truths, Twoie dances so unself-consciously in the lunchroom that he becomes Mr. Cool--one of two fun musical moments in the show. He disarms a bully with empathy about his absentee dad and reaches out so sincerely to Will’s grandfather in a rest home that it brings Grandpa back in touch with reality.
The show loses momentum and focus in an overlong, trite action finale in which the bumbling cloners trap both boys. The sweetly preposterous ending, however, is mitigated somewhat by a sly hommage to “The Patty Duke Show.”
But there’s credit to go around, and it starts with Lawrence. He’s not only a vivid, likable screen presence, but he’s got the acting chops to create two separate identities, each so convincing that it’s difficult to accept that they’re played by one actor. Young actors Brenden Jefferson, Tyler Hynes and Sarah Gordon are unusually winning too.
Kudos to director Manny Coto, and screenwriters Jeff Schechter and Gregory K. Pincus, who weren’t afraid to show a little tenderness and resisted the attitude-laden glibness of so much “family” fare.
* “The Other Me” airs tonight at 7 on Disney Channel; repeats Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 9 p.m. The network has rated it TV-G (suitable for all ages).