What happens to a child star (at least, the ones who don’t wind up in jail) when he grows up? In this unassuming little comedy, he runs a kids’ talent agency, discovers a wayward waif oozing natural talent and, in the process, finds himself. A better version of “Curly Sue,” this Michael J. Fox vehicle screams “cute” from every pore but should play well with kids and won’t insult the intelligence of adults. Disney may have a quiet success here, assuming the little guy isn’t lost amid brassier summer fare.
Michael Chapman (Fox) was once the star of his own sitcom, “Life With Mikey,” making him
one of the best-known tykes in America. Unfortunately, he topped out at age 15, did a few “Love Boat” guest shots and now suffers from a serious case of Peter Pan-itis, unwilling to take on responsibility while his patient brother (Nathan Lane, straight from “Guys and Dolls” on Broadway) runs their business.
That all changes, however, when a streetwise 10-year-old steals Michael’s wallet, then puts on a Meryl Streep-quality performance when another fleeced passer-by catches her. A light-bulb goes off over Michael’s head, and an uneasy alliance is forged.
Angie (newcomer Christina Vidal) actually does have a terrific sob story — forced to live with her inattentive sister because her parents are gone.
She quickly lands a major commercial gig and moves in with Michael, compelling him to confront some of his own inadequacies, while the fate of his agency hangs in the balance.
This is all very stock, predictable stuff, but director James Lapine and writer/co-producer Marc Lawrence bring an easy charm to most of the proceedings, generating laughs thanks to the clever mock sitcom footage and pint-sized “Broadway Danny Rose”-type acts who pass through seeking fame and fortune.
Fox turns in an extremely likable, believable performance without resorting to camp or melodramatics (even when the script leans in that direction), and Vidal emerges as an engaging child actor without resorting to the shameless mugging characteristic of so many children’s roles, even if her precociousness at times feels a bit overdone.
Lane is properly harried as the brother, while Cyndi Lauper — after an ill-fated star turn in “Vibes”– finds herself better-suited to this supporting role as the agency’s ditzy secretary.
Ruben Blades also shows up in an uncredited cameo.
“Mikey” does suffer from a rather flabby midsection but rallies at the finish. Tech credits are solid, with Oscar-winner Alan Menken (working with live actors for a change) providing a nifty score that includes the “Brady”-esque “Life With Mikey” theme.
Kudos also to the art direction on the various commercial spoofs, which should have even tots smiling with a sense of recognition.