Representing the kind of ripped-from-the-headlines melodrama the networks used to make, “Little Girl Lost” telegraphs where it’s going — but you’d still have to be a pretty heartless bastard to resist becoming a little choked up at the end. Producer-director Paul A. Kaufman gets a terrific performance from Judy Reyes (“Scrubs”) as the working-class Philadelphia mother convinced her baby daughter didn’t perish in a house fire but was instead abducted. Although the pic runs short on fuel at times, it’s a notch above the recent crop of Lifetime hanky-wavers.
The fact-based story is the stuff cable news execs wallow in and dream about, with missing kids as a go-to hook with which to tantalize soccer moms. Here, Luz Cuevas (Reyes) and her husband (Hector Luis Bustamante, also first-rate) throw a Christmas party that gets out of hand before a fire rips through the second floor. The couple and their boys make it out all right, but their infant daughter doesn’t.
Luz, however, is sure the baby was nabbed, having seen an open window that she distinctly remembers closing. Nobody believes her, and she spends six years living with guilt and doubt before encountering a young girl — the daughter of a casual acquaintance (“Ugly Betty’s” Ana Ortiz) that attended the party — whom Luz believes is in fact her daughter.
Thwarted at every turn by dismissive authorities and skeptical family, an exhausted Luz eventually approaches a local congressman, Angel Cruz (A Martinez), who’s about to give her the brushoff before she says, “There comes a day when you can’t take one more ‘Come back tomorrow.’ ” Once he’s enlisted, the narrative slows substantially and injects a bit too much “CSI: Philadelphia” into the proceedings before rallying in the final reel.
Obviously, there’s a slightly anticlimactic quality to a yarn with this title, but Reyes brings such conviction to her underdog role that the movie — much like the character — powers through most of the impediments. There’s also the question of whether the family can survive the rift created by her refusal to let go.
As an aside, the movie shares its name with a classic “Twilight Zone” episode, in which a child eerily vanishes into a parallel dimension. In this case, she merely disappears into an uncaring city, lending credence to W.C. Fields’ old gravesite line “Better here than Philadelphia.”