If the plot sounds familiar, it's because Simon Birch was `suggested' to screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson after he read John Irving's bestseller A Prayer For Owen Meany. The "teary-eyed" scripter apparently woke his wife during the night to tell her: ""This is what I am going to direct when I become a director"." Well, that's very touching, but Johnson's directorial debut does its source material no justice, stripping away most of the meat and showering what's left with shovelfuls of good ol' Hollywood sugar.
While Irving's offbeat hero is allowed to grow up, Simon Birch meets his destiny before he gets anywhere near puberty. Johnson was evidently keen to have everything resolved before the unappealing onset of pimply adolescence, keeping two-foot-tall 12-year-old Ian Michael Smith centre-screen for the entire movie.
It's not that Smith is irritating - - he delivers a pretty impressive performance - - it's just that he's been given lame dialogue and has to carry a cliché-loaded plot on his own. The Wonder Years-style narration by Jim `Serious Now' Carrey gives too much away and intrudes too often; the adult cast (Platt, Strathairn, Ivey) all look like they're struggling to stay awake; and Joseph Mazzello, as Simon's friend Joe, hasn't shaken off the annoying kiddiness of his Jurassic Park turn.
Johnson's quest to schmaltzify everything about Owen Meany extends to his picket-fenced, apple-pie vision of America, with most of the movie shiny, Persil-clean and shot in a rose-tinted focus. Okay, Simon cracks rude jokes and drools over his female classmates' "boobies", but his crassness is played for cutesy laughs and only adds to the sterility. And therein lies the problem with Simon Birch - it tries so hard to warm the hearts of its audience that it forgets to have any real heart itself.