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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 9, 2010

Indie drama fails to deliver on emotion

By Roger Moore
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The family-friendly "Letters to God" is about how a child's faith spreads to those around him.

Vivendi Entertainment

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PG, for thematic material

109 minutes

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A little boy with cancer puts his fears, hopes and prayers into letters written to God.

A troubled, cynical postman inherits the job of dealing with those letters, and taking that duty seriously changes his life.

But even though lip service is paid to cynicism and even skepticism in "Letters to God," that's not what this indie drama is about. It's about how a child's faith spreads to those around him and softens their hearts.

A good-looking but slow and bland faith-based tear-jerker, "Letters" is a depressingly unemotional affair, with the writing and some of the acting so flat that even its emotionally loaded situations can't inspire waterworks.

Jeffrey S.S. Johnson plays Brady, the alcoholic postman given a route that requires him to pick up the letters from young Tyler (Tanner Maguire). His predecessor on the route took the letters seriously:

"It's like finding a kitten on your back porch. You can't just walk away."

Brady finds himself talking to the kid and his mom (Robyn Lively). The letters have Brady accepting advice from preachers and getting his act together. But as Tyler's plight draws in others, mom is just frazzled by religion pushing into her worry and grief over Tyler's condition.

"I wish everyone would stop quoting the Bible to me. It's not curing my son!"

That blast of doubt is bracing and a little out of place in this altar-call of a drama. Most of the characters have narrow story arcs (Brady makes the big journey, but he's a generally very nice drunk) and that shortcoming isn't helped by the funereal way most scenes are played, with precious few chuckles (Bailee Madison plays Tyler's fierce little friend) drowned out by seraphim on the soundtrack. Still, Johnson and Lively are engaging, and Ralph "Pa Walton" Waite has a cute cameo as a cranky ex-thespian.

But whatever flashes of conflict turn up in the four-writers' script are quickly rubbed off in some misguided attempt to render everything and everyone "nice."

Thus, while "Letters to God" is certainly family-friendly, the blandness robs it of whatever emotion or redemption the filmmakers were shooting for.

No matter how tearful your intent, don't forget what the Greeks dropped into epistles to the ancient Hebrews: "No conflict, no drama."