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[whitespace] Desert Blue
Been There, Dune That: Christina Ricci and Casey Affleck are bored small-town teenagers in 'Desert Blue.'

Small-towners give big-city slickers a lesson in 'Desert Blue'

By Heather Zimmerman

NEXT TO Cinderella romances, one of Hollywood's favorite fables is that of the town mouse and the country mouse. Lofty big-city attitudes are always brought down to earth by simpler small-town sensibilities, and it's no different this time around in the desolate desert town of Baxter, Calif., the setting for Desert Blue, a drama written and directed by Morgan J. Freeman. Baxter is home to a roadside attraction--the world's largest ice cream cone--and the remnants of a failed "ocean park" with lots of sand but no water. Aside from the giant cone, the town's claim to fame is the neighboring factory for Empire Cola. Roaming the back roads of Baxter are the town's teenagers, among them: Ely (Christina Ricci), the sheriff's daughter, who has a fondness for explosives; her boyfriend, Pete (Casey Affleck), an all-terrain race champion; and Blue (Brendan Sexton III), whose recently deceased father had tried to put Baxter on the map by building the ocean park.

A tanker truck carrying the secret ingredient of Empire Cola overturns near Baxter, and when the uninjured driver mysteriously dies a few hours later, the FBI, fearing a toxic hazard (or perhaps an X-File?), arrives to quarantine the town. Predictably, the citizens test the patience of the FBI with everything from paranoid pestering to violent resistance. Though one cell-phone-toting agent shows particular scorn toward these small-town bumpkins, the city slicker most in need of humbling is a snobbish young starlet, Skye (Kate Hudson), who is passing through town on a road trip back to L.A. Trapped by the quarantine, Skye frets over missing an important audition until she strikes up a romance with Blue (Blue and Skye, get it?).

If nothing else, Freeman has crafted a tribute to life in the slow lane, denouncing a too-narrow focus in life that can take people away from friends and family: Blue's father literally obsessed himself to death about the ocean park, in a single-mindedness echoed by Blue, who works tirelessly to finish the project and preserve his dad's legacy. Similarly, when she arrives in Baxter, Skye can only think about her career. But there are too many dramas happening here, from the shattered dreams of Blue's father to the fear of death that supposedly grips the town after the quarantine is imposed but never manifests itself meaningfully. Percy Adlon's Bagdad Cafe offered a more well-rounded and much more entertaining look at the oddballs a small desert town can attract.

What he lacks in originality, Freeman makes up for in connections. He has assembled a strong cast, which, despite the script's many flaws, he generally doesn't squander. The actors coax some genuinely enjoyable and believable moments from the too-broadly drawn characters. Desert Blue marks only the second feature film for Freeman; if his filmmaking ever strays from the main highway, the detour may be worthwhile.

Desert Blue (R; 90 min.) written and directed by Morgan J. Freeman, photographed by Enrique Chediak and starring Brendan Sexton II, Kate Hudson and Christina Ricci.

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From the June 24-30, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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