Savannah Smiles (Anchor Bay)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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