Dark Forest Releasing</i>
Katie (Mika Boorem), left, visits Lin (Yi Ding) in a Chinese medical clinic after Lin's surgery in "Smile."
SMILE — * 1/2 — Mika Boorem, Luoyong Wang, Linda Hamilton; in English and Mandarin, with English subtitles; rated PG-13 (violence, vulgarity, profanity, brief sex, brief gore, brief drugs).

The concept behind "Smile" makes it difficult to criticize; not so the movie. This drama, which was bankrolled by the people behind the international Operation Smile program, has the best of intentions. But it's so painfully earnest that it becomes insufferable.

Dramatically and cinematically, "Smile" is just a terrible movie. Even the initial good will created by its subject matter and the movie's clearly good intentions can't overcome that.

According to the literature, "Smile" is allegedly based on "80,000 stories," including that of Katie Kramer, the activist daughter of actor-turned-filmmaker Jeffrey Kramer, who wrote and directed.

Her fictional counterpart is Katie Nelson (Mika Boorem), a spoiled rotten Malibu teen. One of Katie's teachers, Mr. Mitchell (Sean Astin), has suggested that she do some community service with a program that provides cosmetic and other surgical procedures for Third World country inhabitants who can't afford them.

Katie is not sure if she wants to participate as a program volunteer and go out of the country, but she's fascinated with the story of Lin (Yi Ding), a Chinese teen born with a facial deformity.

Despite the prodding of her adoptive father (Luoyong Wang), Lin refuses to have surgery. And it appears it will take Katie's help — and presence — to help convince her otherwise.

Among the bigger problems, even the film doesn't seem to know what it's about. The first third is preoccupied with the subject of premarital sex, as Katie tries to decide whether she should succumb to the charms of her boyfriend (Erik von Detten).

Then there are the contrived marital and parental squabbles between Katie's parents (Beau Bridges and Linda Hamilton), which sidetrack the film even more.

In fact, by the time Katie (and the film) finally gets around to volunteering, it's already far too late. (The only saving grace — if there is one — is Cheri Oteri, who earns the film's few laughs by her improvising and riffing in the role of a too-enthusiastic nurse from Utah.)

"Smile" is rated PG-13 for a couple of violent scenes (some brief fisticuffs, as well as an auto-pedestrian accident), use of some crude slang terms and profanity, brief sexual contact (and some sex talk), brief gore, and brief drug content (use of a hypodermic needle). Running time: 107 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com