mikey

I’m well aware that not every movie that hits screen in the warmer months is expected to turn into a marauding blockbuster, but I’m still occasionally taken aback by how small-scale some of the summer releases were back in the early-to-mid-nineteen-nineties, when I was still one-half of a weekly movie review radio program. One week before Jurassic Park opened in 1993, one of the two wide release openings was Guilty as Sin, a lousy courtroom drama directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Rebecca De Mornay (who had at least had a surprise hit with the thriller The Hand That Rocks the Cradle the year before) and Don Johnson. The other was Life with Mikey, which can probably reasonably be tagged as the beginning of the end of Michael J. Fox’s film career. It made about $12 million at the box office. Total. As for my review, the film is better than its fade into total obscurity would suggest, but I still think I’m probably a notch too generous toward it. I stand by my rave about the fictional sitcom’s theme song. I bought the soundtrack (used and deeply discounted, but I still bought it) just to get it.  

One of the most miserable stories in the entertainment industry is the commonly told tale of a former child star whose career became nonexistent after puberty hit. That journey from adoration to indifference has been travelled by the main character in the new film LIFE WITH MIKEY. Michael J. Fox plays a man who grew up as the star of a silly family sitcom that resembles LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. But these days the most high profile job he can get is cutting ribbon at the opening of a new turkey restaurant at an otherwise abandoned strip mall. So, to make ends meet, he works with his brother running a talent agency that specializes in kids. The problem is that most of their clientele are utterly talentless, or as the older brother, played by the gifted Nathan Lane, puts it, they’re the children that time forgot. The one moneymaker in the group is an obnoxious cereal commercial star, well-played by David Krumholtz, who uses his success to bully his agents into doing whatever he wants.

The agency is about ready to go under when Fox finds a preteen girl pickpocket who has enough natural charm and spirit to land a major deal with a cookie company. The film spends some time examining the nature of child performers and happens when they’re not cute enough to get jobs anymore. But since the girl comes from a broken home and moves into Fox’s sloppy bachelor pad with him, the movie is dominated by their squabbling and bonding. Director James Lapine does manage to keep the film from becoming shamelessly sappy and there are even a couple of sweet moments that are played with just the right amount of restraint.

The main problem is that the chief plot isn’t very interesting. Fox and the young girl, played by newcomer Christina Vidal, go through a predictable series of conflicts and neither of their characters really develop past the most basic level. The film’s greatest strength comes in the scenes that revolve around the talent agency and the cheesy commercial the kids appear in. There are several montages showing the variety of youngsters that audition for the agency and each of the misguided performers is terrifically funny, especially an intensely serious young man who can even make a scene from THE ODD COUPLE depressing. Make no mistake, LIFE WITH MIKEY has a lot of problems, but when the film’s gags work, they connect for solid laughs. And besides, the film’s worth seeing just to hear the daffy LIFE WITH MIKEY theme song that plays over the closing credits.

(2 and 1/2 stars, out of 4)

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