Smile is the perfect example of a well-intentioned film that falters because it was not made very well. This is the writing and directorial debut for Jeffrey Kramer, who based the film off the experiences of his daughter. If anything, Smile plays like an extended public service announcement about how facial deformities afflict poor children around the world. Most of the deformities are easily fixed with surgery, and all it takes is a small investment, whether it be money or time, to make all the difference in the world for a small child. It is definitely a worthy message (surprisingly, Kramer offers no postscript in the film about who to contact, or how many lives are saved), but hampered by the fact that Kramer is not a screenwriter or a director.

Kramer spends far too much time setting up the story, contrasting the privileged life of Katie (Mika Boorem, Sleepover, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights) with that of Ling (Yi Ding, Pavilion of Women, The Water Ghost), a young girl in rural China. Ling lives with her adopted father Daniel (Luoyong Wang, Lana's Rain, Rollerball). They are poor, and Ling has a facial deformity she hides with a veil. Because of this, it is hard to get work. Daniel's wife left because she was jealous of the care he showed to Ling. Katie lives in Malibu. Her father (Beau Bridges, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, Debating Robert Lee) and mother (Linda Hamilton, Skeletons in the Closet, The Secret Life of Girls) love her, but their marriage is shaky. The opening scenes in Malibu are probably Smile's worst. Kramer lets them drag on, delving unnecessarily into Katie's family dynamic. The only thing this does is showcase some bad overacting on the part of Boorem, Bridges and Hamilton. Aside from Wang, the only person worth watching is Sean Astin (50 First Dates, The Return of the King), who, as Katie's teacher, opens here eyes to the world outside of Malibu.

Kramer switches back and forth between China and Malibu, perhaps for too long. It's a given that Ling and Katie will meet, so the viewer has to sit and wait for it to happen. This means dealing with Katie's boyfriend problems and blossoming sexuality, again, pretty pointless in relation to the rest of the plot. Once she finally goes to China, Kramer throws in the very annoying Cheri Oteri (Dumb and Dumberer, Scary Movie) as Linda, a nurse with Katie's volunteer group. Presumably, Oteri was there for some comic relief, but her jokes are at the expense of the Chinese people around her. It's not the greatest idea for Kramer to jokingly insult Asians, and Oteri comes across as very offensive and ignorant, unintentionally changing the tone of the story.

Overall, the film feels like a public service announcement gone awry. The best moments are near the end in China, when Katie meets Daniel and Ling (Kramer follows this with a bizarre photo montage over the end credits). Smile falters every time it tries to construct a plot around the events, and worsens it by prolonging the movie unnecessarily. The sad thing is, most of Kramer's attempts at making this into a film have the opposite effect of cheapening the real emotion behind the film.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 47 minutes, Mandarin and English with English subtitles, Rated PG-13 for some mature content including teen sexuality.

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