Sometimes it’s remarkable how far a hackneyed storyline will take you when it’s decently executed. The Wonderful World of Disney’s “Mail to the Chief” is never for a second in danger of being original or interesting, and yet for at least the first half it manages to glide charmingly along. Thanks to a couple of insouciant performances by Randy Quaid and Holland Taylor (“The Practice”), as an aloof President and his super-cynical adviser, some highly familiar shtick still seems amusing.
President Osgood (Quaid) is facing dismal reelection prospects. Despite the best efforts of his political team, led by Taylor’s Katherine Horner, Osgood can’t seem to connect with the “average Joe,” so he cybersurfs into an online political chat room under a pseudonym and asks some advice.
On the other end, using his father’s screen name is 13-year-old Kenny Witkowski (Bill Switzer), who, although he’s only managing a “C” in his civics class, manages to provide just the right common sense counsel to send the President’s poll numbers soaring. Before long, Kenny is bowling in the basement of the White House and befriending the nation’s chief executive, who, it turns out, could use some advice about being an attentive dad as well as being a better leader of the free world.
Handling a tired plot device if ever there was one, writer-director Eric Champnella manages to execute the silliness without begging for laughs. And, until the story tries too hard for emotional content toward the end, the movie works. It’s fun watching the Secret Service defend Kenny from the school bully, listening to the contrived C.I.A. cover stories created to get him out of school, and seeing the befuddlement of a presidential speechwriter trying to understand why the word “sizable” communicates more clearly than “amplitudinous.” And it’s certainly a pleasure to watch Holland Taylor deliver snide comments about the Olsen twins.
Quaid deserves credit for setting just the right tone from the start. His goofiness allows the audience to accept the character’s callous stupidity without hating him completely. Quaid is capable of delivering lines like, “We didn’t have a bowling alley in my yacht club,” and actually make us sympathize. Bill Switzer as Kenny is an effective “everykid.”
Ignore the cheesy sentimentality at the end, and this is definitely better than average trite television. Tech credits are fine.