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The Pursuit of Happyness

The American Dream, Big Willie Style

The Pursuit of Happyness is an overly earnest, slickly packaged rendering of the American dream, sold to us with a broad smile by Will Smith. As a box-office commodity, Smith has an enviable track record, and itís easy to understand why. He is smooth, self-effacing and blessed with impeccable comic timing. And as Chris Gardner, a lovable loser who is determined to provide his son with all the comforts of the good life, he is endearingly sympathetic.

Set in San Francisco and based, of course, on a true story, The Pursuit of Happyness follows Gardnerís rags-to-riches journey from its humble beginnings. As a salesman peddling oversized bone scanners to Bay Area doctors, Gardner is a well-meaning failure. Itís not that his approach is flawed -- heís likable enough, and his work ethic is undeniable. The problem is the product. The scanners are worthless, and Gardner has invested his lifeís savings in them.

Before long, he loses his apartment and his wife, Linda (Thandie Newton). With his son in tow, Gardner is relegated to the streets, emasculated by his paternal shortcomings. It is then that he wanders into the offices of Dean Witter, a brokerage firm offering unpaid, six-month internships to aspiring workers. He enrolls, determined to land a job at the conclusion of his training.

Despite his bad luck and dire circumstances, Gardner remains upbeat most of the time, even as his world unravels at a dizzying pace. Itís a role perfectly suited to Smith, who works his common-man charms effectively enough to carry the movie. Gone is the goofy and somewhat grating swagger he brought to disposable blockbusters like Independence Day and Bad Boys II. Here, Smith is an average guy trying to stake his claim, and he is the very personification of optimism and ambition.

Thatís a good thing, because The Pursuit of Happyness would be a very ordinary film without him. Instead, he and real-life son Jaden Smith, who delivers an admirable performance as Gardnerís put-upon boy, make it the slightest of pleasures -- predictable, but passably entertaining.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars