Writer-director Robert Kirbyson admits to cribbing from several tragic childhood episodes to create the script for his feature debut, the largely painful family dramedy "Snowmen." But by altering key events for levity's sake, wedging in a host of contrived story points, then troweling on a preachy layer of life lessons, the movie ends up feeling way less authentic than Kirbyson so clearly intended.
"Snowmen" involves 10-year-old Billy (Bobby Coleman), a plucky cancer survivor convinced he's dying who attempts the world's record in snowman-building as his legacy. Billy is joined on his Guinnessian quest by his best friends — timid Lucas (Christian Martyn) and Jamaican-transplant Howard ("Role Models'" Bobb'e J. Thompson, overworking the "mon" bit) — but they're thwarted by a raft of obstacles, not the least of which is Billy's confused and misleading self-diagnosis.
It's a shame the film's first two acts are such a grind since there's actually a decently wrought resolution to it all. But by then, between the youngsters' more-is-less acting (Ray Liotta fares only slightly better as Billy's madcap dad), feeble stabs at humor and overreaching profundity, it's too little, too late.
"Snowmen." MPAA rating: PG for thematic material, some rough bullying and peril, language and brief juvenile humor. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. At Vintage Cinemas Exchange 8, Glendale; AMC's Block 30, Orange.