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I Am Sam

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: I Am Sam

Starring: Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer
Director: Jessie Nelson
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 133 Minutes
Release Date: January 2002
Genre: Drama

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie review
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5.  Susan Granger read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

What do you get when you cross a 2+ hour Starbucks commercial with KRAMER VS. KRAMER and a five pound bag of sugar? Jessie Nelson's I AM SAM. (Appropriately, the long first scene is a close-up of Sam arranging and rearranging packets of sugar.)

The Starbucks commercial is interrupted periodically so that the movie can hawk IHOP, Bob's Big Boy, Pizza Hut, Payless Shoes and other products. With bigger intentions than just garnering product placement fees, I AM SAM wants to be the film that finally gets Sean Penn his Oscar. His schmaltzy performance, which plays like an acting school class lesson, is just the sort that the Academy loves, especially since his character is mentally challenged. If you want to gamble your hard earned dollars on this year's winner, Penn would be a smart choice. Personally, I had enough of it after the first five minutes.

The script, co-written by Kristine Johnson (THE STORY OF US) and Jessie Nelson, concerns a man named Sam -- as in "Sam I Am" from Dr. Seuss's "Green Eyes And Ham" -- who has the mental capacity of a seven year old. This single dad, played accurately but gratingly by Sean Penn, has a daughter who has just had her seventh birthday. Named Lucy -- as in "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" -- the girl is played too knowingly by blonde-haired, blue-eyed cutie Dakota Fanning. Fanning's only other picture, surprisingly, was the raunchy TOMCATS. The problem with her performance as Lucy is that she is as wise and mature as a teenager. (Those parents with teenagers, please avoid the urge to write me to educate me about my misconceptions about teenagers' wisdom and maturity.)

Just when the movie looks hopelessly maudlin, Sam is arrested for soliciting a prostitute -- one of many scenes that ring false. The arrest puts in motion a sequence of events that causes the courts to want to take Lucy from Sam, which means he needs a lawyer. Wanting the best "four names" lawyer he can't afford, retains Rita (Michelle Pfeiffer), who reluctantly takes his case pro bono. The two of them are like sweet-and-sour sauce. Pfeiffer cuts through the saccharin and almost makes the movie worthwhile.

The overly plotted tale gives Rita a son that she's too busy to see, much less play with. Meanwhile, she works hard for a client like Sam who has all the love and time to give but is being prevented from giving them. Pfeiffer is terrific and funny even if never quite believable. (The only credible character is played by Laura Dern as an exemplary foster mother.) Pfeiffer's funniest moment occurs when she keeps screaming "Home!" into a voice activated cell phone that won't listen properly. Her type-A character is never smart enough to realize that she could easily punch in the number.

This highly manipulative commercial masquerading as a movie could at least have had the grace not to go on forever. At our screening, even those who liked it thought it went on way too long.

Wait for video and borrow your neighbor's tape. If, after five minutes, you've already reached sugar overload, you won't have wasted anything.

I AM SAM runs 2:13. It is rated PG-13 for "language" and would be acceptable for kids around 11 and up.

Copyright 2001 Steve Rhodes

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