‘Lit­tle Boy’ a les­son in faith

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - — Robert Abele

Tol­er­ance, World War II his­tory and faith are served up with a sticky sen­ti­men­tal gloss in the fam­ily film “Lit­tle Boy.”

The film brings to­gether Pep­per (Jakob Sal­vati), a wide-eyed 7-year-old boy des­per­ate for his fa­ther (Michael Rapaport) to re­turn home

from the war in the Pa­cific, and an older Ja­panese man named Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Ta­gawa), shunned by the Pearl Har­bor-scarred res­i­dents of their small Cal­i­for­nia town.

The glue is a wise priest (Tom Wilkin­son) who sees an op­por­tu­nity to teach last­ing Chris­tian val­ues to the will­ful Pep­per, who is bul­lied by older kids for his diminu­tive size but loose with the racial ep­i­thets. It’s all sim­plis­tic ser­mo­niz­ing in direc­tor and cowriter Ale­jan­dro Mon­teverde’s hands, de­void of any thought­ful messi­ness about wartime mind-sets or fam­ily de­spair, and quick to sand any edges with post­card­pretty coastal town vis­tas and cutesy mu­sic cues.

Char­ac­ters are ei­ther good­ness per­son­i­fied (Emily Wat­son, find­ing a few lay­ers as Pep­per’s mom) or one-di­men­sional big­ots. The leads are just de­vices: Pep­per is a bland kid headed only one way — to­ward ho-hum whole­some­ness and cry­ing close­ups — while Hashimoto is writ­ten to be a benev­o­lent rock: pa­tient, non­threat­en­ing and lit­tle else. (Why a ha­rassed her­mit would pa­tiently agree to be some needy kid’s char­ity ex­per­i­ment is be­yond this movie’s dra­matic in­ter­ests.)

“Lit­tle Boy” is a les­son, shiny and ob­vi­ous, but it’s hardly spir­i­tual in any mean­ing­ful sense. “Lit­tle Boy.” MPAA rat­ing: PG-13 for the­matic ma­te­rial in­clud­ing vi­o­lence. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 47 min­utes. Play­ing: Cine­mark 18 & XD, L.A.; Pa­cific at the Grove, L.A.; TCL Chi­nese, Hol­ly­wood; AMC Uni­ver­sal Ci­ty­walk 19; AMC South Bay Gal­le­ria 16, Re­dondo Beach.

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