Critics will hate this, audiences will love it. I’m somewhere in between.
The little boy is Pepper Flynt Busbee (talented newcomer Jakob Salvati). His father (Michael Rapaport) is going to fight in WWII, after his teenage son (David Henrie) isn’t deemed suitable for service (flat feet).
Pepper is short for his age and is often picked on by bullies. You think things might get better when at a performance of magician/super hero Ben Eagle (Ben Chaplin), he’s called onto stage to perform a trick. Pepper makes a bottle move using only his mind. It’s obviously a trick, but the boy figures he can use his new magic powers to end the war.
His mom (Emily Watson) is trying her best to keep it all together, and she’s trying to deal with trouble her teen keeps getting into. She’s also trying to keep widower and town doctor (Kevin James) at bay.
Newsreels show us what’s going on in the world and when Pearl Harbor is attacked, we see the internment of Japanese-Americans. This is bad news for a long-time resident of this small Northern California fishing village.
Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa of The Last Emperor and Memoirs of a Geisha) tries to deal with the stares and taunts from the town. His only friend is Father Oliver (Tom Wilkinson). When Oliver sees that Pepper and his brother have been part of the taunts, he tries to teach the kid a valuable lesson. This involves him having faith and partaking in good deeds. One of those includes a friendship he must have with Hashimoto.
There’s a moment where you hope this doesn’t turn into Karate Kid. Yet you quickly realize they’re going to bond, since both are picked on. It’s not about getting revenge on the bullies (although you wonder why Hashimoto doesn’t at least press charges after some of these incidents).
There are various moments when the boy has to show his “power” and they’re cleverly done, yet a lot of the movie has an uneven tone.
Writer/director Alejandro Monteverde (Bella) has small touches of wry humor that work. He also lets us get to know these characters.
There’s good supporting work from Ted Levine, Ali Landry, and James DuMont.
The production team is the husband/wife combo of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, so this is getting labeled a “faith based film.”
As a non-practicing Jew and agnostic, I didn’t feel the religious themes were preachy. Now, it did try too hard in a lot of ways, and should’ve been more subtle.
A lot of the sentimentality is manipulative and you’re beaten over the head with the various messages.
It’s a family film that’s rated PG-13, but be prepared for the kids to do some crying (and bring tissues for yourself).
The movie was entertaining enough to get 2 ½ stars out of 5 from me.