Southern adventure tale powered by its good intentions, and a magnetic performance by Shia LaBeouf

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A boy with Down's syndrome runs away to fulfill his dreams of becoming a professional wrestler in "The Peanut Butter Falcon," a kind-natured Southern road trip adventure whose overly fanciful spirit is rescued by its good intentions.  

Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a teenager placed by the state in a retirement home where he's cared for by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), an earnest, big-hearted volunteer. Zak spends his days watching old videocassettes of the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), a pro-wrestler who runs a nearby wrestling school.   

Zak slips out one night and meets up with Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a troubled fisherman on the run after he destroyed a boating facility. They team up — reluctantly, at first — and Tyler agrees to help Zak find his hero, while evading the parties tracking them both down. 

LaBeouf's dangerous, rough-hewn charm gives Tyler a compelling edge; he remains one of the most commanding actors of his generation, and he's reason enough to buy into the tale. His scenes with Gottsagen have a raw honesty and sweetness that smooth over some of the bumps that emerge late in the story.  

Writer-director team Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz know the terrain of the story, and the waterways and wooded trails of the Carolinas photograph well. 

Optimism tends to trump logic in the story, especially when it comes to Johnson's character who, after tracking down the boys, is all-too-willing to join them on their adventure. Nilson and Schwartz want to create a feel-good story, and they cut a lot of corners to get there. But once they get there, the destination is worth the ride. 

'The Peanut Butter Falcon'

GRADE: B

Rated PG-13: for thematic content, language throughout, some violence and smoking

Running time: 98 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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