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PRECOCIOUS BOY SPENDS PENNIES FROM HEAVEN

MOVIE REVIEW

Millions ** 1/2 (out of four)

Rated PG-13

Starring Alexander Nathan Etel, Lewis Owen McGibbon, James Nesbitt and Daisy Donovan. Directed by Danny Boyle. A charitable young boy witnesses the power of greed after becoming theaccidental recipient of bank robbery loot. Opening Friday at area theaters

Damian Cunningham, the young boy at the center of this film, is a wonderful little character.

He's the sort of earnest, thoughtful child who drives teachers a little crazy. And he's an odd little fellow; a bit obsessed with saints, he even sees and talks to them on a regular basis.

It helps, too, that he's played by 9-year-old Alexander Nathan Etel, who not only does a marvelous job but is adorable, with dark freckles all over his little face and enormous, long-lashed, blue eyes.

The film as a whole, however, isn't quite on Damian's level. Director Danny Boyle, who made the highly acclaimed, disturbing cult hits "Trainspotting" and "28 Days Later," has, along with writer Frank Cottrell Boyce ("Hilary & Jackie"), made a departure, here -- a film that families (at least some; see below) can enjoy together, and that's always good news. However, "Millions" goes off in so many directions that it's not only confusing but a bit shallow, as well.

Parents should be aware of a few things: non-violent but intense threat scenes that are too scary for young children; slightly irreverent depictions of saints, e.g., a smoking St. Clare who explains, "You can do what you like, up there," and a brief scene showing father and his new lady friend asleep in bed (covered).

The story is set in motion when a satchel of money crashes out of the sky into Damian's little hideaway near the house in a spanking new English suburb where his father has moved him and his older brother after their mother's death.

Damian reveals his find to his brother (ably played by Lewis Owen McGibbon), who rejects his idea of giving the fortune to the poor. Instead, big bro loads up on fancy gadgets and buys a posse for himself at their new school. Meanwhile, a perplexed Damian tries to determine who exactly the poor are. The brotherly conflict is intensified by the fact that, in a few weeks, at Christmas, Britain will be switching to the euro and the fortune will be worthless unless spent or converted.

Loss, adjusting to a new life, conflict, finance - there's plenty in the story right there, but it packs in more - menace, adult greed, a relationship for father - and starts to feel like a Hollywood Christmas film, complete with the tinkly music with wordless choir that seems to be in every Yuletide film and commercial nowadays. That said, I missed the depth and revelation on the adults' part that would have made it a real heartwarmer. And Boyle's house-related computer animation, while cute, is basically a distraction, since the house never plays a major role in the story.

"Millions" has many funny lines, some edge, and an understanding of the temptations of money. If only it had more of an emotional payoff.