Hollywood made good sport of the Washington scene with “Guarding Tess,” the tale of a Secret Service agent saddled with a persnickety ex-first lady. “First Kid” springs from the same starting block but changes the guardee to the young teenage son of the reigning U.S. prez. Fortunately, the filmmakers have brought enough unique dynamics to the material. Though a little on the obvious side, the film has a lot of heart and humor that should translate into good mid-level theatrical returns and even better response in ancillaries. International territories are nonetheless unlikely to print much coin, judging from recent diminished response overseas to the likes of “Tess,” “Dave” and “The American President.”
The picture’s forces of nature are an uncharacteristically (for the job) flamboyant national security op and the somewhat sullen, attention-starved only child of a president who’s preparing for re-election. Sam Simms (Sinbad) is a square peg in a round hole. He’s physically imposing and boisterous and has an affinity for loud ties. He’s risen in the ranks through determination and an innate grasp of human nature.
Sam aspires to protect the country’s head honcho but must first take on the less glamorous task of being bodyguard to President Davenport’s son, Luke (Brock Pierce). The job falls to him when another agent loses his cool with the first brat in front of first lady Linda Davenport (Lisa Eichhorn).
Though Luke unquestionably tries the patience of his minders, it’s quickly made clear that he’s just a misunderstood, bored kid. He hates living in a fishbowl, attending official functions and missing out on such normal fare as cruising the malls, playing sports and dating.
Sam, unlike his predecessors, gets it. No stranger to procedural infractions, he regularly figures out ways of spiriting the boy out of the White House. When a bully at Luke’s private school gives him a bloody lip, boxing therapy at a no-nonsense gym is put on the agenda. A cute girl and a school dance call for an everything-you-need-to-know-about dancing session.
The real strength of the Tim Kelleher script is its understanding that despite the two main characters’ considerable positive traits, they are misfits. Each appreciates the other for his qualities, not his station. The writer has effectively created an appealing fantasy and given it human dimension.
Director David Mickey Evans has an excellent grasp of the material, stressing character rather than the more fantastic elements of the plot. The situation perforce calls for the boy to be in jeopardy and for Sam to demonstrate mettle. Evans has a simple, unfussy visual style, ideally suited for this production.
Sinbad appears supremely in his element in “First Kid.” He is like an extremely large boy himself, though considerably better grounded in reality and experience, and his natural enthusiasm elevates the proceedings. Pierce is excellent in his first major film role. He’s completely centered as a performer, capturing the complexity of his character with a deceptive simplicity one rarely sees in kid actors.
“First Kid” also has an exceptionally strong supporting cast, from James Naughton’s statesman-like president to excellent turns in bureaucratese from Art La Fleur and Robert Guillaume, as senior security officers. Timothy Busfield registers strongly in the pic’s most dramatic part, a disgraced agent. The Washington setting also provides for a humorous, digitally created conversation between Davenport and Bill Clinton about a misplaced saxophone and a vignette with Sonny Bono in which the congressman can’t seem to shake his showbiz past.
Pic has a little of everything without looking like a crazy quilt. The focus is clearly on entertaining, and that’s a sure vote-getter at the box office.