Most kids, when asked to name someone whom they consider to be a hero, would pick a superstar athlete. Michæl Jordan, say, or Sammy Sosa. However Omi (Nabil Mehta), a young Indian boy sent to stay with his uncle and family in Ottawa, has a far more realistic outlook, even though he’s on a quest to find a superhero whom he can bring back with him to India to save his terminally ill mother. He requires a guy who is strong, honest, brave and truthful. In other words, he’s looking for the perfect man, which is the same thing that his pretty cousin Safia (Amy Sobol) seeks.
Omi thinks he’s found his guy when he meets Roland (Jim Codrington), the charismatic captain of a local tour boat. While it takes Omi’s cautious cousin a while to realize it, Safia eventually begins to think that she’s found her guy, too, although for obviously different reasons. Together, the odd couple cousins set out to catch Roland, conspiring together to trick Safia’s father, Omi’s Uncle Jalal (Ivan Smith), and his easily duped wife, Aunt Maggie (Franceen Brodkin) into letting them stay out all night on Roland’s boat. But all superheros have their weaknesses. And when Omi and Safia discover Roland’s, they have to decide if he’s good enough as he is, or whether they should keep on looking.
“A Passage to Ottawa,” in desperate need of a hero of its own, fortunately finds one in Mehti. It’s his dogged intensity and singularity of purpose that keeps this touching but surprisingly lightweight fable on track. While Codrington’s Roland conveys little depth and Sobol’s Safia is an impetuous spoiled brat, we keep watching because of Omi. He charms the pants off the viewer, which is almost enough — but not quite — to make us forget how much better this film could have been. The boy’s mom is DYING, for crying out loud, yet director Gaurev Seth treats Omi’s forced exile like a trip to summer camp. There are few peaks and valleys here; few moments of real emotional intensity. Instead, “A Passage to Ottawa,” though still enjoyable enough to watch, simply rolls along like a boat ride through the undulating hills of the Hudson River Valley.