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Unchallenging 'Smooch' is completely inoffensive

PASADENA, Calif. — For viewers prone to getting upset about the content of television today, there's an easy solution: Tune in to Hallmark Channel, and never change the channel. You won't be challenged or surprised, and most importantly, you won't be offended. Other viewers who prefer more layered storytelling won't be satisfied — "Mad Men" fans, for instance — but for others, Hallmark might be just the right channel.

Next Saturday, Hallmark debuts "Smooch" (7 p.m.), a romantic comedy loosely based on the Brothers Grimm short story "The Frog King."

The best thing about it? Actress Kiernan Shipka, the 11-year-old who plays Sally Draper on "Mad Men." She's adorable, and it's a relief to see her playing a generally happy child as opposed to her most famous character. Also, it was shot in San Francisco, where it's set, and Detroit, so "Smooch" benefits from a better on-location backdrop than many TV movies.

The worst thing about "Smooch"? It moves at a snail's pace — too much time spent watching people walk around — and it's entirely predictable. At best, it's cute pabulum.

Shipka plays Zoe, a girl who loves fantasy stories and happy endings. She believes a frog she rescued from a science class has turned into a prince (Simon Kassianides, "Quantum of Solace"). She brings home the man, who can't remember how he ended up disheveled in a park, and he's hired to be her nanny. Zoe also has a widowed mother (Kellie Martin, "Life Goes On"), so you can imagine where the story will go from there.

The film's theme, according to writer Howard Burkons, is the notion that love goes on, even if you lose the one you love, as Zoe's mother has.

"That love that you find in one romance can become part of who you are," Burkons said, "and that love can spread to touch other people, and through a child's imagination, anything is possible."

For the film's female stars, "Smooch" marked the passing of the torch from one generation to the next. Martin grew up on the sets of several TV shows, including the 1989-93 ABC series "Life Goes On." She can see similarities in her upbringing with Shipka's.

"The second I met her mom, that relationship reminded me so much of the relationship I had with my mom at that age," Martin said. "My mom was with me the whole time. Until I was 18 years old, she was on set with me every day. That's the way to survive being a child actor is to have a family that is very present with you, very supportive, never pushes. ... I feel like she just has an amazing family and that that is the secret. That is the way to soar and survive and make sure you don't go down the path that so many of them go down."

Another positive sign that Shipka won't become a child-star statistic: She's not allowed to watch "Mad Men."

"I just focus more on the Sally parts and focus on her storyline," Shipka said. "I do know the general storyline, but I'm not allowed to watch the show."

She did study the 1960s in school and doesn't seem all that fond of her TV mother, Betty Draper (January Jones). When asked about the unsympathetic, not-that-nurturing character, Shipka said, "What can you say about Betty? She is what she is."

Shipka began acting in her native Chicago and got more serious about acting at age 6 after moving to California. She also takes dance and voice classes.

Since she can't watch "Mad Men," she often tunes into a channel many children seem to enjoy these days: Food Network.

"I like seeing the food being made and the competitions," Shipka said, calling "Barefoot Contessa," "Iron Chef" and "The Next Food Network Star" her favorites. She's also a fan of "The Big Bang Theory" and "Modern Family" on broadcast television.

But she's not dying to meet teen pop sensation Justin Bieber.

"I like the 'Twilight' series. I like Robert Pattinson," she said. "I like Justin Bieber, but I don't know if I have 'Bieber Fever.' I do like him, but I don't think I'm crazy over him. I'm more of a 'Twilight' person."

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service