Based on the true story of self-made millionaire Chris Gardner, who reared a small son and made his way through a competitive internship on little more than hopes and dreams, the film sets itself up as an uplifting celebration of the human spirit.
What it is, though, is a two-hour slog through the most horrific litany of bad luck and circumstance imaginable, capped by an all-too-brief celebratory epilogue.
Though on every life a little rain must fall, to keep an audience attentive, a movie also must have some sunshine. Although the argument might be made that the constant hardship makes the eventual victory seem sweeter, it never addresses the fact that after two full hours of big bummers, an audience might not care.
Willfully melodramatic and shot with little visual flair, the movie has a made-for-television vibe. Although the evocation of period - the film takes place in the early 1980s - is interesting, nothing else about the script or production value is.
The film is not a complete wash. Will Smith cements his status as one of Hollywood's most reliable, adaptable and charismatic leading men.
Even when hidden behind some unfortunate early-'80s specs and a bad brown suit, he's a screen presence impossible to ignore. It's a shame that so many of Mr. Smith's gifts, most notably his crackling wit, were not better utilized.
There's also something to be said for the fortuitous casting of Mr. Smith's son, Jaden, as his son in the film. Not only is their natural chemistry always evident on screen, but young Jaden proves himself to be a juvenile actor of some breadth and depth.
Still, fine performances are not enough to keep Happyness afloat. It's grim to a fault, relentless in its approach and barely there in terms of artistry. The Pursuit of Happyness is proof positive that it takes more than a good heart to make a good movie.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TITLE: The Pursuit of Happyness (Sony Pictures; $28.95)
THE VERDICT: ** out of *****
DVD EXTRAS: The most interesting is a look at the real Chris Gardner and his response to having a painful period of his life re-created.