Jeffrey Johnson, Tanner Maguire, Letters to God

Vivendi Entertainment

Review in a Hurry: A kid undergoing chemotherapy writes letters to God, for about 110 minutes. Inspired by his optimism, everyone else in the neighborhood becomes a better person and starts praying more; even the nonfaithful among the audience might start to follow their example, as in, "Dear God, make it stop!"

The Bigger Picture: Watching an earnest, maudlin cinematic sermon of this sort really helps you appreciate the fact that Tyler Perry throws some comic relief into his theatrical tracts. There are laughs to be had here, but of the unintentional kind, as when an alcoholic reaches for his fifth of Jack Daniel's, and a song on the soundtrack loudly proclaims, "There's no message in this bottle!"

The kid at the center of the action, whose name coincidentally happens to be Tyler (Tanner Maguire), is actually quite good, even great in comparison to the rest of the canned hams on display. He may be shaved bald and have a big scar on the back of his head, but he behaves just like a normal kid, excited about soccer and an avid player of Battleship. His fellow child actors, however cute, do tend to mug it up, but Maguire's ability as an actor to seek normality in the character mirrors Tyler's struggle effectively.

Which is all well and good, except that there isn't really a story to be had here, just a whole bunch of local characters sitting around waiting for Tyler to die (or not), and an alcoholic mailman named Brady (Jeffrey Johnson), collecting the kid's correspondence with the deity and becoming a better man as a result of reading mail not addressed to him (great role model, there).

Codirector David Nixon's previous credits include six self-help videos on how to play golf, which sound only slightly less stimulating than what we have here. But as a preemptive move against naysayers, he and fellow helmer Patrick Doughtie begin the end credits with a series of photos of real-life folks who survived cancer after praying heavily. Yet since the entire point of the film was that praying doesn't necessarily cure you, the last-second hard sell on the notion that it does feels strangely incongruous.

And yes, the movie is based on a true story. So your heart can go out to those in need even as you mock the bad acting and plotting on display in a fictionalized movie that uses their tragedy to evangelize. Particularly inept are the attempts to depict school bullying and alcoholism in relatively "family-safe" ways; those moments play almost like Saturday Night Live skits.

The 180—A Second Opinion: If you have known any children with serious illnesses, the film may well strike an emotional chord. Sure, there are other movies that do it better, and with a whole lot less scripture, but if that's what you're into, go for it.


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