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Review: Immigrant comedy set in the ‘70s ‘Growing Up Smith’ falls short

Brighton Sharbino, left, and Roni Akurati in the film "Growing Up Smith."
(Good Deed Entertainment / Ponca City LLC)

A strained cross between broad, culture-clash comedy and wistful coming-of-age tale, “Growing Up Smith” is a well-intentioned fizzle that misses what should have been an easily reachable mark. But a patchy, overly episodic script by Anjul Nigam, Paul Quinn and Gregory Scott Houghton paired with Frank Lotito’s imprecise direction results in many missed comic and emotional opportunities as well as a poky pace.

In the plus column: the engaging performance by young Roni Akurati as Smith, an eager 10-year-old who, in 1979, moves from India to small-town America with his traditional, at times clueless parents (Nigam, Poorna Jagannathan) and teenage sister (Shoba Narayan). Unfortunately, Akurati’s game turn is undercut by the script’s toothless conflicts and inconsistent story strands as well as by intrusive voice-over from the adult Smith, who narrates this memory piece.

To be fair, there are amusing bits involving Smith’s “Saturday Night Fever” fixation and a mortifying trick-or-treat costume he’s stuck wearing (during an interminable Halloween night sequence) plus a few sweet beats between Smith and the object of his affection, neighbor and classmate Amy (Brighton Sharbino).

But Smith’s wan rescue of Amy’s genial dad (Jason Lee), who runs afoul of a shotgun, results in a silly, overblown “local hero” segue. How Smith’s sister repeatedly cons their parents about her secret dating life is another big stretch.

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‘Growing Up Smith’

Rating: PG-13, for some language and brief drug use.

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.

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Playing: AMC Burbank 8; AMC Orange 30

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