Picks and Pans Review: Savannah Smiles

updated 05/09/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/09/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Like the recent, unlamented Jimmy the Kid with Gary Coleman, Savannah Smiles is about the humanizing effect of a precocious child on a bunch of nitwit criminals. It begins with slapstick humor that has all the subtlety of the Dukes of Hazzard, but after half an hour it drops its burlesque facade and evolves into an unembarrassingly warm saga. Already a veteran of a dozen small roles at 7, Bridgette Andersen plays an imaginative, droopy-eyed 6-year-old who is ignored by her socially prominent parents. She runs away and ends up in the backseat of a stolen car, driven by two scruffy ex-cons, Mark Miller, who also wrote the film, and Donovan Scott. To their dismay, they find themselves responsible for the little girl's welfare—then discover that her father is worth $20 million. The hoods eventually become softened by Andersen's childish charms. That this doesn't lead to a swamp of pathos is a tribute to Andersen's lack of pretension; her recitation of the Brer Rabbit story, like Justin Henry's deviant ice cream-eating in Kramer vs. Kramer, is a hilariously natural childhood scene. Miller and Scott are fine with Andersen; they are not even slightly amusing when they're money-hungry criminals robbing a grocery store of its $18.43. Chris Robinson, a sometime TV director, plays Andersen's heartless, politically ambitious father and is appropriately villainous, but Peter Graves, as the investigator brought in to find the girl, uses the same clipped tones he made famous in Airplane!, which makes it hard to take him seriously. Director Pierre (Devil's Toy) De-Moro seems to have had a certain amount of difficulty deciding on a proper tone for the film, but he nonetheless maintains a tender, touching atmosphere that should keep audiences smiling along with Savannah. (PG)

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