Little Boy

The steady performances of Tom Wilkinson, playing a kindly priest, and Emily Watson, an angelic mother, in Alejandro Monteverde’s “Little Boy” do little to offset the cloying sweetness of a movie that has the haranguing inspirational tone of a marathon Sunday-school lesson. This tear-stained lump of hokum, drenched in oversaturated color, is a World War II fable about faith versus magical thinking.

The unseen narrator is Pepper, looking back at his anguished California childhood, when his beloved father, James (Michael Rapaport), a car mechanic, left home to fight the Japanese and was reported missing in action. Once Daddy is gone, 8-year-old Pepper (Jakob Salvati) is taunted by his peers who call him “little boy” because he is short.
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Pepper finds hope at a children’s magic show when his participation in an onstage stunt leaves him believing he possesses telekinetic powers. He is fortified by memories of his father’s giving him courage when facing physical challenges with the words “Do you believe you can do this?”

The story compares Pepper’s persecution to the harassment of Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a gentle Japanese-American who is considered a pariah on the home front.

Pepper, encouraged to make amends after he and his teenage brother, London (David Henrie), throw stones at Hashimoto’s house, develops a student-teacher bond with Hashimoto that is reminiscent of “The Karate Kid.” With Hashimoto’s help, Pepper sets about carrying out the Roman Catholic Church’s Seven Corporal Works of Mercy.
In the most preposterous scene, Pepper’s desperate arm-waving attempt to prove that faith can move mountains coincides with an earthquake, earning him the awe of the bigoted, credulous townspeople, who cheer when news arrives of the bombing of Hiroshima. The queasiest moment of this crass, manipulative claptrap is the mention that the bomb was named Little Boy.

“Little Boy” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has one grisly battle scene.
 

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