It's not the actor playing the title character who nearly saves "I Am David" from itself. It's actress Joan Plowright, playing a Swiss widow who brings joy and spark to the otherwise drab, gray existence of an Eastern European refugee.
Plowright's winning, winking performance also brings joy and spark to this otherwise drab, gray movie, which badly needs some life. Unfortunately, she arrives more than halfway through, and by then it's too late.
She deserves a better movie than this. While the material itself has promise (it's an adaptation of Anne Holm's best-selling novel), this drama fumbles and stumbles its way to a resolution that's far too easy one that occurs at the very last minute.
Also, considering that the film comes from writer-director Paul Feig, one of the creative minds behind TV's much-missed "Freaks and Geeks," this is a huge disappointment. The film shows virtually none of the wit and humor that was so prevalent in that show.
Newcomer Ben Tibber stars as the title character, an orphaned boy who finds himself in a forced labor camp in Bulgaria, just after the end of World War II. With help, he escapes and is for some reason told to head to Denmark.
It's not an easy journey. And David gets sidetracked in Italy, where he's nearly nabbed by the local police and also falls in with a rich family that encourages him to tell his story.
David mistakes their efforts for an interrogation and flees into the forest, where he's forced to rely on his survival skills. Luckily, he meets Sophie (Plowright), an amateur artist who asks if she can paint his portrait.
She agrees to transport him over the border and shelters him though, again, David is reluctant to share much about his past.
And while his character is supposed to be a bit of a cipher, Tibber is just not a very expressive actor. Consequently, it's not interesting to watch him wander aimlessly even if it is in Europe (mostly Italy).
There's never much of a sense of danger, either. And Feig's leisurely pacing makes a relatively short movie feel considerably longer.
Aside from Plowright's performance, the only thing of interest is Jim Caviezel reunion with his "Passion of the Christ" co-star Hristo Shopov. (They're not in it nearly enough, however.)
"I Am David" is rated PG for scenes of violence and peril (a scuffle as well as a shooting), and scattered use of mild profanity (mostly religiously based). Running time: 95 minutes.