August 21, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Simon Birch

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
performer
Ashley Judd, Ian Michael Smith, Jim Carrey
director
Mark Steven Johnson
genre
Drama

STARRING David STRATHAIRN, Oliver PLATT, Ashley JUDD, Ian SMITH, Joseph MAZZELLO, Jim CARREY

DIRECTED BY Mark Steven JOHNSON

For years Hollywood’s been promising a film adaptation of A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving’s beloved 1989 opus about war, religion, redemption, and one very odd little boy. And now it’s here — sort of. ”It’s still an adaptation,” says Platt, who plays the narrator’s surrogate father figure. ”It tries to distill the tone and spirit of the book and eke a good story out.” In other words, the film is a significant departure from the novel — enough of a departure, in fact, that Irving, who attempted to write the screenplay himself on a number of occasions, finally asked that the main character’s name be changed and accepted an ”inspired by” credit. Early word says the film plays as a streamlined, more emotional version of the book — following Simon’s search for his destiny after he accidentally kills his best friend’s mother — with Carrey filing yet another serious turn as the narrator. ”It was difficult,” sighs Grumpy Old Men screenwriter and first-time director Johnson. ”We had to do things like take out the Vietnam War element. It was just too complicated.” Also complicating matters was the casting of the little leading man. Last summer the producers began placing ads looking for ”the littlest person … ever seen.” The part went to the 11-year-old Smith, who’s afflicted with Morquio’s syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that results in dwarfism. ”It was a lot of fun,” says Smith of his movie debut. ”It’s not like you’re ever bored.” (Sept. 11)

THE LOWDOWN A complicated story simplified by a first-time director, a source author distancing himself from the project, and the potential for disappointed fans. Our prayers are with you.

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