By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Little Boy is a faith-based melodrama about racism and hatred, aimed primarily at children.
Executive produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, it’s set in the small coastal town of O’Hare, Calif., during the stages of World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Jakob Salvati plays diminutive seven-year-old Pepper Busbee, nicknamed “Little Boy” and teased and bullied unmercifully because of his size.
His dad, a car mechanic played by Michael Rapaport, is, to Pepper’s severe disappointment as a loving son, drafted into combat in the Pacific when the flat feet of his older son (David Henrie) render him 4F and keep him out of military service.
Pepper’s older brother is one of many local townsfolk in this seemingly close-knit town who detest and belittle a local named Hashimoto, played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, because he is Japanese and, therefore, according to them, the dreaded enemy.
Only the local priest, played by Tom Wilkinson, preaches tolerance and universal brotherhood.
When Pepper attends a local performance by his comic-book hero, crime-fighting magician Ben Eagle (Ben Chaplin), he becomes convinced that magic exists and that he, if he tries hard enough, can, like Ben Eagle, will things to happen with his supernatural telekinetic powers.
Like, for example, ending the war and bringing his beloved father back safely.
Meanwhile, tragic news of his dad’s demise motivates Pepper to try more magic while his grieving mom, played by Emily Watson, fights off the advances of the local doctor, a widower played by Kevin James.
Mexican director Alejandro Monteverde (2006’s Bella), who co-wrote the script with Pepe Portillo, mixes moods and tones abruptly as he waxes nostalgic and sentimental, sometimes employing a light touch, more often than not lifting a speechifying sledgehammer.
But when you hear the line of dialogue, “Do you believe you can do this?” as many times as it’s uttered here, you know that the principles of obliqueness and subtlety have been tossed overboard.
As do many if not most faith-based movies, Little Boy will come up short for nonbelievers, who might find even the well-intentioned message about bigotry and tolerance overly insistent and heavyhanded in its tearjerking.
Viewers grateful for the film’s basic viewpoint, on the other hand, may find themselves moved and gratified.
As for us, we’ll believe in 2 stars out of 4 for this forced fable about the power of faith to affect change. A little of Little Boy goes a long way, but not necessarily in the right direction.