By Shawn McKenzie 07/29/2005
Sometimes a movie that promotes a worthy cause can be derailed by bad acting, directing, and storytelling. That was the case in the movie Smile.
Katie Nelson (Mika Boorem) is a typical popular blonde girl from Malibu, CA, who has all the pressures that teens get. She is pressured into having sex from her boyfriend Chris (Erik von Detten), and she fights with her mom Bridget (Linda Hamilton) and her dad Steven (Beau Bridges)…though she mostly fights with her mom. All the way across the world in China, a girl who was born on the same day as Katie named Lin (Yi Ding) has problems of her own. She was abandoned as a baby and rescued by her adoptive father Daniel (Luoyong Wang.) Even though he already has a son named James with his wife Liu Chien (Jia Song), he seems to prefer raising Lin to his own flesh and blood. The main reason is that he feels sorry for the child, since she was born with a cleft lip on her right side. On Lin’s seventh birthday, Liu packs up James and abandons their family. Ten years later, Daniel sees a flyer for “Doctor’s Gift,” a medical program that provides reconstructive surgery to children in countries who cannot otherwise afford it (it is a fictional charity based on a real medical program called “Operation Smile.”) Lin doesn’t want to go at first, but Daniel talks her into it, and they head to Shanghai to get the surgery. On the way there though, a bus hits Daniel, and they miss the chance to take her to her surgery. Back in Malibu, Katie becomes inspired to go on the next Doctor’s Gift trip to China by her teacher Mr. Matthews (Sean Astin.) Even though her friend Brittney (Essie Shure) and Chris don’t want her to go, she is affected by the pamphlets of the kids with deformities and decides to go. Besides…it doesn’t hurt that a cute boy named Ted (Jonathon Trent) is going on the trip with her. Linda (Cheri Oteri), a registered nurse from Salt Lake City, UT, joins Katie in China, along with another student from China named Calvin (Shuai Chi Chi.) She starts to wonder if she has made a big mistake at first, but when she visits the clinic, she warms up to the kids. Earlier, Katie had read a file about Daniel and Lin, so she decides to go to their rural town and bring the two back to Shanghai for her surgery. She doesn’t bother to tell anyone about this, which freaks out all concerned, but she is determined to find the father and daughter, if for her own gratification.
Writer/director Jeffrey Kramer had been inspired to make this movie when he heard about Operation Smile and his daughter’s experiences volunteering for it, but the movie comes off as one big PSA. It felt like a commercial for the charity that just happened to have a story slapped to it. The story of Lin and Daniel was interesting, but having it interchange with the story of Katie was boring. They needed the Malibu story to further the plot of the China story, but it just didn’t seem to work well overall.
The acting was stiff, but I think that was that fault of Kramer. Hamilton and Bridges are so generic, and Hamilton’s dialogue with Boorem ended up looking like an episode of the WB’s “7th Heaven” (if you have ever seen the show you will recognize the actors’ tendency to speak in stilted dialogue.)
There were a few shining performances though. Oteri was the obligatory comic relief, but she also handled the dramatic moments well. von Detten actually managed to prove that he could do drama instead of playing characters that seem to be inspired by early ‘90s Keanu Reeves roles. The actor is remembered slightly from two recent ABC failures, “Dinotopia” and “Complete Savages” (the latter of the two I actually liked.)
You would be better served by visiting their website operationsmile.com to learn about the charity than by seeing Smile. While it meant well, it won’t help the charity, or moviegoers, by watching it.
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