Movie review: ‘First Kid’

It’s tough to pull off a kid-type movie without sacrificing the depth that a little more mature (no, not that kind of mature) audience expects from a film, but “First Kid” makes a nice run at it but comes up just short. Overall the film is watchable (don’t admit it unless trash talk from friends about watching a “kid” movie isn’t too humiliating) and nothing you should turn off just because it’s kid-friendly.

‘First Kid’
(1996; 101 minutes; rated PG; directed by David M. Evans and starring Sinbad, Brock Pierce and Timothy Busfield)

SINBAD IS GOOD, BUT HE’S NOT GREAT

First Kid” is meant to appeal to the pre-teen set that admires a youngster who’s dealing with stuff that adults don’t understand. Of course it’s a little different when that kid is the son of the President of the United States. Toss in Sinbad here as the Secret Service agent guarding the kid and it’s his spotlight film. Overall, it’s better than the sap you might originally believe. Check it out if you have the opportunity.

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Don’t get me wrong since there are stereotypes (uptight bosses; clueless parents; getting bullied and then getting even with the bully; etc.), silly stuff that appeals to kids (say Sinbad scoring coffee and donuts at a mall under the pretense of security) and, of course since it’s a Disney film, all turns out good in the end. However, there is a bit of depth (say the online threat to a child years before it became prevalent) and Timothy Busfield’s acting is top-notch and would be good in any serious drama.

Anyway, in “First Kid,” Sinbad is a loose, cool agent who rubs his bosses the wrong way. He does the little, unprofessional things (such as the donut caper) that irritate them. When fellow agent “Woods,” played by Busfield, comes to the last straw in dealing with the President’s son and gets canned after making a public scene with the boy at a mall, Sinbad, playing agent “Sam Simms,” is assigned to be the bodyguard for “Luke Davenport,” played by Brock Pierce.

First Kid” then follows the usual script: they clash; they bond; there’s some bumps in the road; Sinbad teaches him some things a father should; and finally protects him. The execution of these is pretty good (especially showing the growing threat – at the time – of online predators) and is explained best in reviewing the actors’ work.

Sinbad is smooth, cool and loose in his role here. Of course he’s much more fun than his immediate boss (Robert Guillaume playing “Wilkes”) and especially than the up-tight White House detail chief “Morton,” who is played by Art LaFleur. Sinbad is especially smooth in engagements with others as his comedic talents allow him to be a chameleon to whatever situation he finds. He has also been in “Houseguest,” “Coneheads” and “Necessary Roughness” (click here for my review).

As I already noted, Busfield is the real actor in this film. You know immediately his bursting-point anger with Pierce through not only the maddening acts by the boy but also coming through Busfield’s expressions. After his downfall he conveys his dismay in a bar scene and, in his best effort, shows at the end how far he has fallen. It’s not a resume builder here, but Busfield cannot be ashamed of this kid-friendly effort. He has also be in “Sneakers” (click here for my review) and TV’s “thirtysomething.”

Pierce is solid as “Luke Davenport” but doesn’t exactly set the acting world on fire here. Although you might believe this was Pierce’s first big-screen effort, it was actually his fifth. His first was “The Mighty Ducks” and he followed that up with its first sequel and then went on to “The Ride” in his 11 credits before leaving acting after 1997.

Guilluame, like Sinbad, is smooth here but where his counterpart is funny and loose, he is disciplined, sophisticated and professional. Guilluame nearly reaches Busfield’s acting level, but he has less to work with. Guilluame is most recognizably known as TV’s “Benson” as well as being in “Spy Hard” and voicing in “The Lion King.”

Zachery Ty Bryan plays “Rob,” who is Pierce’s tormentor at their private school. Bryan, who was in TV’s “Home Improvement” at the time of “First Kid’s” release, obviously got the part because of the TV show’s popularity at the time and, like his effort in “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” offers nothing special here.

Ultimately you’ll forgive the campy stuff (like where Pierce’s snake gets loose at a state dinner) and the formula work necessary for this kind of Disney film. “First Kid” deserves it because it is actually good.

First Kid” was the 59th ranked film at the U.S. box office in 1996 with $26.4 million in receipts, according to Box Office Mojo. It showed a profit as it came off a $15 million budget, according to Wiki. However, it had tough competition in the youth market since Sinbad was in a more popular youth-oriented film that year (“Jingle All the Way” at 22nd with $60.5 million – click here for my review) two others were in the Top 10 (“101 Dalmatians” and “The Nutty Professor”). The No. 1 film was “Independence Day” with $301.6 million.

Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • LaFleur was in another youth-oriented film the year before (“Man of the House” with Chevy Chase and another hard-working “Home Improvement” actor, Jonathan Taylor Thomas). He does a good job playing the strait-laced, strict disciplinarian.
  • James Naughton, who does a competent job as “President Paul Davenport,” has been in “The Paper Chase” and “The Devil Wears Prada.”
  • Bill Cobbs does his usual excellent work with a small role as “Speet,” who is the guy who owns the gym where Sinbad teaches Pierce how to fight. He has also been in “That Thing You Do!” (from same year as “First Kid”), “Demolition Man” and “The Color of Money.”
  • First Kid” was the final onscreen role for Sonny Bono, who plays himself in a cameo. He died in 1998 in a skiing accident. Bono had other acting credits including “Hairspray.”
  • Another cameo is by former President Bill Clinton, who calls the president and is asking him to look for a saxophone he left under a bed at the White House. Clinton was the REAL president when the film was released.
  • Sinbad’s real name is David Atkins.

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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