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'Little Gangster' is a charming and insightful father-son comedy
A scene from "Little Gangster," which will be screened at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival as part of the Sundance Kids series and Utah Student Screening series. - photo by Josh Terry
LITTLE GANGSTER 3 stars Thor Braun, Henry Van Loon, Rene van 't Hof, Meral Polat, Nol Keulen, Fedja Van Huet, Maas Bronkhuyen; not rated, likely PG; Sundance Kids

"Little Gangster" is a film that will put a smile on your face, and frequently. A Dutch film from director Arne Toonen, Little Gangster is being featured at this years Sundance Film Festival as part of a special series of movies aimed at young audiences.

From the opening, "Little Gangster" bursts with charm. Right away we meet Rikkie Boskamp (Thor Braun), a Dutch pre-teen who lives alone with a father he wishes were a little more macho. Paul (Henry van Loon) is a kind and loving dad, but he's also a pushover. Their humble home is littered with unopened mail order items that crafty telemarketers have conned Paul into buying.

Things are especially tough for Rikkie at school, where a group of bullies torment him daily. So when Paul gets a promotion at work that requires the father and son to relocate, Rikkie jumps at the chance to reinvent the both of them.

Rikkie uses a VHS dub of an old gangster movie called Son of Don to guide the makeover effort. He figures the best way to be cool is to convince his new peers that his father is really a mafia boss, so he throws out all his dads old accountant clothes and uses his moving stipend to fill their new home with mob-appropriate furniture: couches covered in cheetah print, stuffed bulldogs, and a flat screen TV lined in gold spikes. And in a priceless moment, he alters the family name to make it sound more Italian.

In no time, Rikkie is recruiting his own batch of yes-men lackeys, flirting with pretty girls in class, and talking his dad into cooking food from a local Italian grocery (run by a woman named Gina, played by Meral Polat). Rikkie even convinces Ginas dim-witted brother Anton (Nol Keulen) to be his bodyguard.

But a nosy ex-cop neighbor named Fred (Ren van t Hof) proves too eager to buy into the young boys faade, and when Rikkie learns hes not the only new kid in school, his past threatens to catch up with him. Following a fun and lighthearted set-up, Little Gangster settles in to deal with the results of Rikkies efforts, and the product is fun, heartwarming and at times, heartbreaking.

Little Gangster is also a lighthearted commentary on the silliness of pop culture, letting us laugh at Rikkies navet in buying into two-dimensional cartoon gangster stereotypes while Gina frets over her efforts to defy them.

Braun does a fantastic job as Rikkie, bridging the tricky transformation from a human punching bag to a kid more likely to be throwing the punches. Van Loon is also perfect as Rikkies father Paul, executing with just enough of an understated manner to make his character sympathetic and very funny.

By the time it wraps up, Little Gangster has some charming things to say about identity and friendship. It isnt able to sustain the laugh-out-loud pace of its first 30 minutes, but there are more than enough great moments to make Toonens film a lovable success.

Little Gangster is not rated, but aside from a particularly vivid laxative gag would likely fall in PG range. It is presented in Dutch and English with subtitles.

"Little Gangster" is not rated, likely PG; running time: 102 minutes.
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