Camelot For Kids Is Clean, But It's Also A Royal Bore

----------------------------------------------------------------- Movie review

X 1/2 "A Kid in King Arthur's Court," with Thomas Ian Nicholas, Joss Ackland, Art Malik, Ron Moody and Paloma Baeza. Directed by Michael Gottlieb, from a screenplay by Michael Part and Robert L. Levy. Alderwood, Aurora, Bay, Broadway Market, Everett Mall 4-10, Factoria, Issaquah 9, Lewis & Clark, Mountlake 9, Snohomish, SeaTac Mall, Valley Drive-In. "PG" - Parental guidance suggested; very mild violence. -----------------------------------------------------------------

There's been a lot of industry talk lately about the increase in the number of family-oriented movies being produced by the major studios. Whether responding to the pressures of Sen. Robert Dole or the profitable returns of family fare, Hollywood is boosting its output of "clean" entertainment at an historic rate.

Only a fool would protest, because the law of averages would dictate that among all of these new family films, a few gems like the recently revived "A Little Princess" will make their way to our screens. But it's just as true that quantity rarely equals quality - especially in Hollywood. If more family films means more films like "A Kid in King Arthur's Court," then we'd all be better off with a few more "NC-17" movies in the mix.

I'm delighted with Hollywood's efforts to clean up its act, but only if that suggests (pardon my idealism) an equal emphasis on the intelligence, literacy, long-term value and inventive inspiration of the movies themselves.

"A Kid in King Arthur's Court" is well-meaning, and its basic premise is perfectly sound. But it is also the antithesis of what a good family film should be. It is numbingly bland, homogenized and deflated by an utter lack of original wit or charm. Worst of all, it is subtly but conspicuously condescending to its target audience. For simple entertainment, you're likely to find more satisfaction in a TV commercial.

Camelot has seen better days. King Arthur (Joss Ackland) is old and ineffectual, and he's losing his power to the scheming Lord Belasco (Art Malik), a disloyal subject who is undermining the king with a sinister campaign to seize control. In an effort to boost the king's fading glory, the long-deceased Merlin (the always enjoyable Ron Moody) - now working his magic as a jovial spirit in a water well - conjures up a brave knight to confront Belasco and restore Camelot's legendary stature.

But Merlin's made a slight mistake. The brave knight he's summoned to 12th-century England is Calvin Fuller (Thomas Ian Nicholas), a 14-year-old Little Leaguer from present-day Redesa, Calif., who's not exactly blessed in the courage department. Luckily, he's won the affection of Princess Katey (Paloma Baeza), who gently boosts his confidence as a knight in training.

You can guess the rest, which is part of the problem. The movie plays out with the inevitability of falling dominoes, focused on the minimal appeal of Nicholas, a juvenile actor who was equally boring in "Rookie of the Year." Director Michael Gottlieb's previous credits include "Mannequin" and "Mr. Nanny," and "A Kid in King Arthur's Court" further demonstrates his established lack of ingenuity.

Saddled with a script full of lifeless, mock-clever ideas (such as having the local blacksmith make a pair of Rollerblades), Gottlieb can only do his best to mollify his audience with a few fleeting hints of the movie's untapped potential.

When it comes to family entertainment from Hollywood, "more" clearly bears little resemblance to "better."