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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Bandit Chase Cycle > Savannah Smiles (Anchor Bay)

Savannah Smiles (Anchor Bay)


Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: C     Film: C



Savannah Smiles is an independently-produced family film released theatrically in 1982 that got a lot of play on cable television the following year or two.  But like many films that were repeated over and over again on cable 20 or more years ago, Savannah Smiles hasn't been shown much in recent years.  The film did develop a following among kids at the time predominately from its many cable showings, and it's been out of circulation long enough now for many of those kids, who are now adults, to want to nostalgically go back and relive the experience.  As a result, Anchor Bay's DVD release of Savannah Smiles should do quite well.


I never saw Savannah Smiles in its entirety until recently, but I remember seeing numerous pay-per-view ads for it in the early '80s.  While watching it, I was reminded of another similar family film from the same era, the Canadian-made Martin's Day (1984), which also concerns a child (Justin Henry, the kid from Kramer vs. Kramer) who has the time of his life after being taken hostage by a benign escaped convict (Richard Harris).  I remember being quite fond of Martin's Day the first time I saw it on cable.  However, when I watched it again several years later as an adult, much to my disappointment, it didn't hold up nearly as well.


I have a feeling a lot of the people who liked Savannah Smiles initially liked it for the same reason I initially liked Martin's Day, having more to do with the age they were when they first saw it than the actual quality of the film.  However, both of these films are harmless, and there are far worse things to like.


Shot on location in and around Salt Lake City, Utah, Savannah Smiles opens with a chubby, lame-brained ex-con named Boots (Donovan Scott) breaking his buddy out of prison even though his buddy only has a little bit of time left on his sentence.  Boots and Alvie (Mark Miller) go on the lam and steal a broken-down junker of a getaway car as they attempt to make their escape.  But their plans are complicated when the two incompetent crooks find little 6-year-old Savannah Driscoll (Bridgette Andersen) hiding in the back seat of their car.


You see, Savannah's parents are wealthy and her father is running for public office, often leaving only-child Savannah alone and lonely.  The lack of attention from her parents causes Savannah to run away from home in protest, and she fortuitously ends up in the back seat of Alvie and Boots jalopy.  And once the bumbling ex-cons discover that a $100,000 reward is being offered in exchange for Savannah's safe return, Alvie and Boots decide they'll delay Savannah's return in an attempt to obtain the reward money.


Of course, the cute little girl will come to adore Boots and even gruff old Alvie as much as they'll come to adore her.  As the parents worry, a professional negotiator (Peter Graves) and a family priest (Pat Morita) are called in to help resolve the situation, but Savannah is having too much fun with her kidnappers to want to go back home.


Going from country-bumpkin slapstick to cute to sentimental, Savannah Smiles plays out predictably, but the film is too slight to justify even a 107-minute run time, and anybody who's seen enough movies will eventually start wishing they'd just hurry things up and get on with the inevitable.   


Savannah Smiles is OK entertainment for kids, but anyone over the age of 15 would be better off seeing Clint Eastwood's A Perfect World (1993), an infinitely better film about a child bonding with his kidnapper (Kevin Costner in arguably his best performance ever).


Fans of Savannah Smiles may be interested to know that Mark Miller, who conceived the story, wrote the screenplay, co-produced and stars as Alvie, is the real-life father of actress Penelope Ann Miller.  And on a sad note, the little girl who plays Savannah, Bridgette Andersen, died from an overdose of drugs and alcohol in 1997 at the age of 21.


Anchor Bay's DVD edition of Savannah Smiles presents the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound.  The only extra included is the theatrical trailer.



-   Chuck O'Leary


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