A clever Dutch family comedy, “The Little Gangster” finds our grade-school hero managing to escape constant bullying by convincing his classmates — and an entire neighborhood — that his milquetoast father is in fact a Mafia don. Those who expect kid pics to have a constructive message might take exception to this one’s apparent takeaway that a little intimidation can be a good thing, so long as you really mean no harm (and target only actual bullies). For everyone else, Arne Toonen’s slick feature will go down easy as an entertaining, neatly plotted comedy that could tempt limited offshore specialty sales and remake bids.
Motherless Rikkie Boskamp (Thor Braun) wishes he had a “cool” father — certainly not one like bespectacled accountant Paul (Henry van Loon), who seems permanently depressed and distracted. Paul is so passive that even his status as a grieving widower doesn’t spare him co-workers’ cruel practical jokes. His only child blames that poor role modeling for his own regular mistreatment by mean kids at school. He’s thrilled when a promotion (which Paul initially declines) lands them in a nicer neighborhood, where conceivably both might be able to shed their roles as targets for petty harassment.
One night while Dad is off being a nerd at the chess club, Rikkie watches an old American thriller called “Son of Don.” It gives him inspiration: He’ll convince his new classmates that Pop is a notorious Italian mobster in hiding, and thus not to be messed with. Raising Dad’s closet for some retro ’70s duds (and “misplacing” all their innocuous newer clothes), and garishly decorating their house a la “Goodfellas” when tasked with buying some furniture, he gives them both a flamboyant makeover that Paul is too oblivious to notice. He takes notes on swaggering Italian style and behavior not just from the film, but also from vivacious local trattoria owner Gina (Meral Polat), whose simple-minded brother Anton (Noel Keulen) can conveniently pass as a hulking bodyguard.
A few well-dropped hints not only induce a state of deferential awe among peers at school, but also stir ultra-politeness among panicked adults in the staid middle-class ‘hood. One exception is local busybody Fred (Rene van’t Hof), an ex-cop all too excited to learn there’s an apparent major-league criminal residing on the block. His slapstick travails spying on the newcomers owe a considerable debt to Jeffrey Jones’ role as the nosy, pratfall-inclined Principal Rooney in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
All goes swimmingly until a couple bullies from the father and son’s recent past show up in the new environment, threatening to blow their cover; then one real mafioso type takes offense to rumors that his turf is being encroached on. Things get more farcical as the “Boskampis” are narrowly saved from various disasters by Rikkie’s resourcefulness, as well as some very lucky accidents. En route, the juvenile protag does learn the error of his ways (sorta) when he’s cornered into picking on vulnerable new pal Noah (Thijn Brobbel) to prove his tough-guy claims.
Its amusingly developed narrative presumably lifted whole from Marjon Hoffman’s source novel, “The Little Gangster” (which, like the book, was released as “De Boskampi’s” in the Netherlands) is lively and playful enough to keep adults as well as kids entertained. Performances are sprightly without tipping over into excess caricature, and production is polished on all tech/design levels.