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Wednesday, Jun 14 2006

COASTLINES No one can seem to think ill of regional humanist Victor Nuñez (Ruby in Paradise, Ulee’s Gold), but this low-budget Florida old-schooler is generally half the storytelling powerhouse he is claimed to be and twice the amateurish cliché monger. This, his latest film, sat undistributed for four years, despite a cast (Josh Brolin, Timothy Olyphant, Josh Lucas, Scott Wilson, William Forsythe) that should have paid its way to a shelf at Blockbuster. Virtually everything about Coastlines, from its title to the scenario that tracks a laconic good old boy (Olyphant) as he returns from prison to his Gulf Coast swamp town and its still-tempting criminal backside, telegraphs the hand of an idea-free newbie, not three decades’ experience crafting “personal” cinema. Brolin and Sarah Wynter, as the married woman swayed by the new boy in town, find a few genuine moments over a kitchen table, but Nuñez’s script is a limping, obvious bore. For some fans, the taste of on-location color matters most, but Nuñez’s idea of the characters’ ordinariness translates to flavorlessness, and he lights and shoots his scenes with a high schooler’s care, often not even bothering to match up sightlines. Merely going to Sopchoppy, Florida, with actors is not quite enough. (Fairfax) (Michael Atkinson)

DOG LOVER’S SYMPHONY A toxic combination of obvious bromides and talentless filmmaking, writer-director Ted Fukuda’s schmaltzy, tone-deaf romantic drama sets your teeth on edge from the outset and doesn’t let up for 103 minutes. Jesse Berns plays Jerry, the world’s least-believable white gang member, who, after getting arrested, becomes the pet project of do-gooding defense attorney Tom (Maxwell Caulfield). Jerry doesn’t want to be anyone’s charity case, but when he lays eyes on Tom’s pretty daughter Susan (Alaina Kalanj), who works as a dog trainer, he decides that maybe turning over a new leaf might not be such a bad idea. While Jerry trains adorable pooch Toby and simultaneously courts Susan, we’re cruelly water-tortured by the film’s anemic production value, Fukuda’s incompetent direction and the dim-bulb cast’s awkward, snicker-worthy line readings. Is this whole meager endeavor in fact some sort of put-on? A deadpan parody of a Hollywood boy-meets-girl fantasy? Nope. Symphony’s life lessons about the importance of listening to your heart — and its pathetic use of hankie-grabbing plot devices, including car accidents and the return of long-lost deadbeat dads — are unrelenting and stone-faced serious. Early on, you start to feel enormous sympathy for the film’s dog performers, who don’t have any idea what an extraordinarily awful movie they’re in. Their human counterparts have no such excuse. (Fairfax) (Tim Grierson)

GARFIELD: A TAIL OF TWO KITTIES Not since Dean Martin has an actor worked harder to sustain the illusion of couldn’t-give-a-crap insolence than Bill Murray — and for the voice of cinema’s reigning computer-generated feline glutton, it may not be an illusion. Whatever the case, Murray’s gift for imperious indifference is the only reason to sit through a second for-kids-only movie about Garfield the lasagna-loving cat, here transported to England for a lame species-transplant version of The Prince and the Pauper. The voices are uncommonly well-cast, from Tim Curry as Garfield’s upper-crust doppelgänger to Bob Hoskins as a bulldog (it took this long?) and X-Men Juggernaut Vinnie Jones as a trouser-mangling rottweiler. But they only underscore how misconceived the movie is on every other level. Why is Garfield an ugly, garish CGI blob in a world of real animals? Why can every dog talk except Garfield’s detested sidekick Odie? Why do human leads Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt act as if they’re the ones who’ve been neutered? At least Murray gets a well-deserved holiday from the midlife-crisis monotony of Broken Flowers — a movie that could have used an animated cat. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

LOVERBOY Creepy mom Emily Stoll (Kyra Sedgwick) calls her 6-year-old son Paul (Dominic Scott Kay) “Loverboy” and is so intent on having him completely to herself that she’s not opposed to moving away if the neighbors get too friendly. Having finally gotten pregnant after years of sleeping with men in parking lots and libraries as part of her relentless quest for a child, Emily’s the kind of movie mom who has a trust fund, which gives her time to dance with her child in the rain and tell him that his life dream will come true if he whispers it into the ear of a lamb. Paul’s dream, one assumes, involves getting away from Mom, and moviegoers may want to escape her too, particularly since actor-turned-director Kevin Bacon (Sedgwick’s husband) can’t seem to decide if he’s making a film about a loving eccentric or a sociopath. Sedgwick, who has the most expressively tense neckline in movies, has never shied away from playing unbalanced, unlikable women, but here, Bacon undermines her rigor with a series of off-key mood lighteners, including a soundtrack jarringly heavy on classic-rock standards. More maddening is Emily’s never-ending voice-over narration, which may have been screenwriter Hannah Shakespeare’s way of staying true to Victoria Rede’s award-winning novel, but which grows as tiresome as the director’s penchant for slow-mo montages of mother and son doing backyard cartwheels. (Sunset 5) (Chuck Wilson)

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