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By Merle Bertrand | March 19, 2005

Actors can be an annoying lot, as any crew person worth his or her salt will tell you. Demanding, difficult, demeaning and dismissive towards their counterparts on the opposite side of the camera, these moving props add an all-too human element to any well-oiled production machine. Unfortunately, they’re also the reason people go to the movies, so us working stiffs behind the camera are stuck with ’em. After all, when was the last time you went to a movie to check out the work of the Key Grip?

As irritating as actors can be in general, child actors add a whole new level to on-set aggravation. At least the adult actors have been around long enough and paid enough dues to earn the right to be such pains in the a*s. Not so the kids, however. Not even a bona fide child star like Taylor Brandon Burns (Mark Rendall). An internationally recognized superstar, thanks in large part to a hugely popular television sitcom, Taylor is now on the cusp of puberty, and the Hollywood studio hacks are desperate to milk their pre-teen cash cow one last time before dumping him like day-old bread. As such, Taylor finds himself cast in the insipid red, white, and blue-draped action flick “The American Son”… to be filmed in Canada.

Not that this is any concern to Rick (director Don Kellar, in a wonderfully sardonic role). Rick produces, directs, photographs, and edits his own Super 8mm art films when he’s not mourning the break-up of his marriage, teaching college film classes, or, in this case, moonlighting as a limo driver for the studio.

It’s doing this last gig that Rick meets the uber-obnoxious young star and his sexy, pragmatic stage mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Once Taylor realizes that he can’t demean the well-grounded driver and can’t control him or drive him away like he does everyone else — it helps that Rick’s sleeping with his mom — Taylor and Rick’s once mutually-hostile relationship gradually melts into something approaching tolerance, with occasional flashes of affection even peeping through. And when Taylor goes AWOL from the set after a night on the town with a perky and ambitious model/actress/prostitute, it’s up to Rick as Taylor’s surrogate father to find the precocious young star and save not only his career, but perhaps even his life as well.

A little too obvious and painting with overly broad brush strokes for its own good, “Childstar” nonetheless does a nice job portraying the perils of a child star’s life. While the film gleefully blasts away at the Hollywood mentality and the dumbed down inanity of it all, director Kellar’s funny farce somehow manages to succeed as a coming-of-age buddy movie of sorts as well.

Rendall, Leigh, and especially Kellar all turn in stellar performances in this crisply written and conceived almost-parody. And rest assured that, thanks to Rick’s resolute meddling, Taylor Brandon Burns will somehow survive his child star days…and grow up to be just as annoying as an adult actor.

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