Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

FIRST KID (1996) (for kids under 10 ** )

Directed by David Mickey Evans. Written by Tim Kelleher. Photography, Anthony B. Richmond. Editing, Harry Keramidas. Production designer, Chester Kaczenski. Costumes, Grania Preston. Music, Richard Gibbs. Cast: Sinbad (Sammy Simms), Brock Pierce (Luke Davenport), Blake Boyd(Dash), Timothy Busfield (Woods), James Naughton (President Davenport), Lisa Eichhorn (the First Lady), et al. A Walt Disney Picture. 103 min. Rated PG.
Simms is not a rare last name, yet I wonder if the acronym widely used in computer terminology (single inline memory modules) did not influence this choice. Back to back we get David Simms (Don Johnson) in "Tin Cup" and Sam Simms (Sinbad) in "First Kid." This may be the most interesting thing I have to say about "First Kid," a wan comedy about Sammy who brings sunshine into the life of young Luke, the son of the U.S. President.

Luke, 13 1/.2, is a pestiferous brat whose every step is followed by a near-phalanx of Secret Service people. The sullen boy is notorious for making their life miserable, above all for agent-in-chief Woods who sticks to the kid (code-named Prince) like a tick. Luke also uses his pet python to annoy or scare people.

Matters reach a climax when the kid, reluctant to go and get outfitted with ("dorky" says he) clothes for High School, moons everyone, the Press included, from shopping mall's fitting room. The First Lady, reacting peevishly to Agent Woods's reaction, has him fired. His replacement is Simms whose ambition is to guard Eagle (the President). Simms is a laid-back, unorthodox joker who cons his way into getting freebies such as donuts. The assignment to the Prince from Hell is a punishment.

If you haven't guess it already, you soon realize that Luke's nastiness comes from unhappiness. It's the old "Poor Little Rich Kid," and "Bird in a Gilded Cage" setup. He has no friends ( an improbable exaggeration in the script), no freedom of movement, no normal teen-age life. His parents are too busy to take care of him, even to see him often.

The President is a pallid character (cf. "Independence Day), running for re-election (cf. "The American President"). At least he's not a crude politico as in "Dave," the best of the White House movie fantasies. He is hardly even sketched in.

The President is barely sketched in. The First Lady too, though we sense that she is imperious, ambitious and cold. She could be called by the epithet that the mother of a major player of the Opposition to Bill Clinton used about Hillary while talking to reporter Connie Chung.

The movie and its development are totally predictable from the word go. After a period of antagonism, the agent and the First Kid bond --a cliché also familiar from boy-meets-girl flicks. The understanding Simms breaks rule after rule to bring fun and normalcy to Luke. You know that the bond has been cemented when, following boxing practice in a gym, the two engage in high-fives.

"First Kid" is just a string of episodes. We get school sequences where Simms has to attend all classes. A pretty teacher is thrown in as a predictable (and undeveloped) romantic interest for Simms. There's a class bully, puppy love and other unoriginalities. Hardly any sequences flow naturally, rise above standard fare or are truly believable.

The movie, merely mildly funny, is devoid of real humor or wit. It often looks like an excuse for very pointed product placements, from cereals, pizzas, doughnuts to a colossal plug for Coke.

The would-be comedic elements go from broad to very broad. At a Presidential reception, Simms, who wears flamboyant ties, is rebuked by his superior "You know that this is black-tie affair." Simms: "Got it covered. I'm wearing a tie and I'm black." Ugh.

At that reception Luke's python creates a panic. Pratfalls follow. Simms plunges into a huge cake. Pie-throwing in silent films was masterful by comparison.

The film goofs its details. As when Simms teaches Luke how to dance, and the kid catches on far too fast. More amusing is when the agent coaches the boy, via a two-way transmitter, to ask a girl to a dance. This Cyrano Junior stuff could give some excellent clues to students taking exams.

The subject of a lonely, neglected First Kid could be interesting if done sensitively and intelligently. Here, the closest we get to something substantial is when Simms tells the boy " You think it's tough. You want my youth. Let me tell you about it." But this is not explored either.

All characters and performances are sketchy and by-the-numbers, except for young Brock Pierce who is fair and Sinbad who is good. The events are harmless and unsensational, until, that is, the film starts wrapping up with grafted on, jarring scenes of violence, blood and bullets. Even so, "First Kid" may work well with pre-teen audiences -- but it is not a movie for unaccompanied adults.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel