A top-shelf director, well-known cast and an upbeat storyline should combine to give the "The Kid and I" a feel-good ride at the B.O., but it's the weird proximity of fact and fiction that could push this Penelope Spheeris-directed comedy into another cultish realm entirely.

A top-shelf director, well-known cast and an upbeat storyline should combine to give the “The Kid and I” a feel-good ride at the B.O., but it’s the weird proximity of fact and fiction that could push this Penelope Spheeris-directed comedy into another cultish realm entirely.

Aaron Roman (Eric Gores), the sweet-natured son of billionaire Davis Roman (Joe Mantegna), has cerebral palsy but dreams of starring in his own action film. For Aaron’s 18th birthday, his father brings together the best talent his money can buy.

Gores is the son of Los Angeles-based communications technology magnate Alec Gores, who reportedly bankrolled the production of “The Kid and I.” The convergence of fact and fiction may be a natural one for Spheeris — she’s made marvelous docs as well as directing “Wayne’s World” — but for a lot of people, the parallels will just seem bizarre.

Spheeris, among the many in the cast who appear as themselves in the film-within-a-film, is the director hired on the cheap, Tom Arnold is the out-of-work comedian paid to write the script and co-star, and Linda Hamilton is the action producer brought onboard for what is arguable the biggest vanity production ever launched.

Arnold — playing Bill Williams, whose career has any number of parallels to Arnold’s own and whose script is often cheerily self-deprecating — carries the mass of the movie, and it is in most ways his character’s story. Bill starts out wanting to commit suicide and ends up being renewed by his relationship with Aaron; he thinks he’s being hired onto a major movie only to find out that the finished film is going play only at Aaron’s 18th birthday party. Eventually, he’s OK with that.

Bill’s first meeting with his prospective co-star is a shocker. The diminutive, bespectacled Aaron is hardly the stuff of movie heroes. While the sense of exploitation is diminished by Gores’ charms, it never goes away entirely.

Not-so-oft-seen Richard Edson is particularly funny as Guy, the drink-damaged vagrant who becomes Bill’s assistant; Shannon Elizabeth as Aaron’s stepmother and Brenda Strong as his mom are both lovely and convincing. But the whole cast is good, considering all the elements at play.

The Kid and I

Production

A Slowhand Cinema release of a Wheels Up Films presentation of a The Kid and I Prods. film. Produced by Tom Arnold, Penelope Spheeris, Brad Wyman. Executive producers, Marie L. Fyhrie, Jordan Katz. Directed by Penelope Spheeris. Screenplay, Tom Arnold.

Crew

Camera (color), Robert E. Seaman; editors, Jan Northrop, John Wesley Whitton; music supervisor, Damon Fox; production designer; Linda Spheeris; art director, Nanci Roberts; sound, Harry Snodgrass, Gary Gelfand, Mark Piskorski; special effects, Ric Zarro; casting, Ferne Cassel. Reviewed at AFI Los Angeles Film Festival, Nov. 12, 2005. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Bill Williams - Tom Arnold Aaron Roman - Eric Gores Susan Mandeville - Linda Hamilton Johnny Bernstein - Henry Winkler Guy - Richard Edson Davis Roman - Joe Mantegna Shelby - Shannon Elizabeth Arielle - Arielle Kebbel Bonnie - Brenda Strong Penelope Spheeris - herself
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