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‘Promise’ is worth only about a penny

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THE PENNY PROMISE — ** — Scott Christopher, Bobby Edner, Jennifer Capo, Jerry Potter, Laurence Lau, Chad Gordon, Cynthia Mace, Kim Abunuwara; rated G (slapstick violence); playing weekends only at the Cinemark 24 at Jordan Landing.

Comedy is not easy. You can't simply throw actors into a supposedly funny situation and expect that audiences will laugh.

Nevertheless, that seems to be the comedic formula for "The Penny Promise," the latest production from Utah's Feature Films for Families. The result is a rather strained family comedy that feels much longer than its relatively brief 90 minutes.

And despite the fact that it features a worthwhile message — one about materialism and honesty, which is bludgeoned home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer — the film feels superficial.

The film's title refers to a pledge made by junior high school science teacher Will Duncan (Scott Christopher, KJZZ-TV's "Movie Guy"), who's finally hoping to wed his sweetheart, Annie Farnsworth (Jennifer Capo). Unfortunately, Will's prospective father-in-law, Big Ben (Jerry Potter), isn't impressed with the earnest but cash-poor suitor, so he makes Will promise to save at least $10,000 before he marries Annie.

However, Will's got a whole series of obstacles to overcome, not the least of which is his longtime rival, George Hampton, (Laurence Lau) who also has designs on Annie and who will stop at nothing to prevent Will from meeting his goal.

But there are a couple of things playing in Will's favor — namely, help from Annie's younger brother, Dustin (Bobby Edner), as well as a treasure of sorts that may hold the solution to all of his problems.

There is a valid point the film is trying to make, but it's often obscured by silly, supposedly comic scenes that go nowhere (including a "MacGyver"-like sequence and a piranha attack). It's almost as if the filmmakers (co-directors T.C. Christensen and Timothy J. Nelson) didn't have much faith in the material and tried to throw in frantic comedy in a desperation move.

As for the cast, Christopher has a sort of goofy likability but his pratfalls and mugging just aren't funny. Young Edner and Capo fare a little better, but their characters aren't fleshed out.

"The Penny Promise" is rated G for slapstick violence (all of it done for laughs). Running time: 90 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com