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 co-writer Alejandro Monteverde's hands, devoid of any thoughtful messiness about wartime mind-sets or family despair, and quick to sand any edges with postcard-pretty 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 close-ups — 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.
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.