There is a curious inversion effect in writer-director Paul ("Freaks and Geeks") Feig's script that mars I Am David to a fatal degree. The more we learn of its young protagonist, the less we believe what we are watching. Exposition presented in the form of melodramatic flashbacks reduces credibility bit by bit until we are convinced that everything about the film is pure fantasy. Twelve-year-olds may relish the derring-do of their peer; kids 13 and older will be skeptical.

The opening sequence, in which young David (Ben Tibber) escapes from a Bulgarian labor camp (clearly modeled after Nazi concentration camps, complete with a commandant whose facial features are shaped like a fleshless skull), is appropriately tense and effective, but then border guards allow him to escape without emptying their weapons. Soon, the boy, carrying a letter for Danish authorities and a loaf of bread, has easily made his way into the hold of a ship bound for Italy.

David is discovered by a member of the crew, who drops him gently into the ocean in the dead of night once they are off the coast. This crewmember, Giovanni (Paco Reconti), will later conveniently reappear weeks later in a handy truck to give David a lift to Milan. Coincidence or plot contrivance? You be the judge.

Incongruously for a child reared in a hellish labor camp, David has an Etonian accent. Later we discover he is of Danish birth, but he appears from the beginning to be more English than Prince Charles, and naturally possessed of impeccable manners. He even says "please."

In short order, David has rescued a pretty little aristocrat from certain death, escaped angry and not-so-angry police, and charmed a fairy godmother-like artist, Sophie (Joan Plowright), into painting his portrait and smuggling him into Switzerland. The fact that David resembles her missing son is only one of a dozen coincidences that render the script highly improbable.

David's only flaw is that he has inadvertently caused the death of Johannes (Jim Caviezel, in still another role of martyrdom), his closest friend and protector at the labor camp. Long before I Am David reaches its final reel, we realize that the lad could walk through an atomic testing site without injury. Nothing is ever going to harm this child-and knowing that, alas, reduces the level of suspense to zero.

DP Roman Osin shoots the film, after the initial nighttime escape, in broad sunshine. No matter where David travels, interior or exterior, the lighting remains Kodak-bright. This monotonously underlines the inanity of an unconvincing fairy tale that masquerades as an earnest plea for freedom.

-Bruce Feld