Our Score: 2 out of 5 stars
Good intentions, on a movie’s end, can only mean something if the message is delivered in a clear and concise manner. There’s an awkward juggling act going on in “Little Boy” between one too many themes and one too many outlandish characters. All of them eventually get whittled down to blunt stereotypes. There’s a sentimental message in “Little Boy”, but it’s packaged in so many weird and different ways, it ultimately becomes a turn off by the film’s end. The movie’s good intentions can easily be seen as insensitive manipulation.
“Little Boy” has its heart in the right place, but it goes about showing it’s tenderness in the wrong way. Pepper (Salvati) is an adorable little lad, that has stunted growth, or at the most, a growth spurt that is literally waiting around the corner. His best friend, and only friend, is his dad, James (Michael Rapaport). They play together, they imagine together, and they dream together. Their scenes together are thoughtful, but hammy. When Pepper’s obnoxious brother London (Henrie), can’t go overseas to protect our freedom during WWII, because he’s too much of a flat footed doofus, the government instead hand picks James.
“Little Boy” could be have been complacent with this set-up and followed the story of a boy trying to land back on his feet after the departure, and loss, of his best friend. But instead there’s an exhausting list of confusing story arcs and plot points. There’s the town priest that shamelessly ties in the boys confusion and misery with a path towards spiritual enlightenment. There’s a Japanese immigrant in town that draws the ire of the boy, as well as some wince inducing scenes of a young child using derogatory slurs in a vicious manner. There’s the boy’s comic book hero that, through a live performance of the comic book material, convinces Pepper that he’s magical. Then there’s the shoehorned role of Kevin James as a doctor who does nothing in his scenes but eat and flirt with Pepper’s heartbroken mom.
It’s a confusing mess with no steady focus or fluid plot path. There are also some scenes that seem really inconsiderate to the material it’s handling. One scene that comes to mind involves the moving attempting to draw parallels between Pepper being bullied and his father being captured by the enemy to be forced into a POW work camp for torture and starvation. “Little Boy” treats delicate topics similarly to how Lenny from “Of Mice and Men” pets a rabbit.
This isn’t an outright disaster. Some steady and impressive performances by Tom Wilkinson, Emma Watson, and Cary-Hiroyuk Tagawa keep the movie from completely derailing and their presence adds a nice level of believability to an otherwise silly concept. And maybe it’s because so much is happening without a clear future, but there is a level of uncertainty as the movie progresses. Even if you think you know what will happen, it does manage to throw a few curves, even though they’re very sappy.
“Little Boy” is shot on 35mm film stock, which may be a turn off for some who expect crystal clear clarity, but it does somehow add to the general nostalgia of this WWII era film (although I did spot a 21st century currency being used). The movie may have worked best as a flick about tolerance towards other people and the misconceptions our society still has. Or, as I said earlier, it could be about the trials and tribulations of a boy attempting to grow up while his father fights for our freedom. At the end of the day though, the acting skills of Salvati represent the childish direction of a director who clearly hasn’t grasped the concept of mature, thematic content that is the basis for strong dramas.