At least it’s air-conditionedBy Heather Anderson
Written and directed by Morgan J. Freeman
With Brendan Sexton III, Christina Ricci, Casey Affleck, Ethan Suplee, Isidra Vega, Lucinda Jenney, Kate Huson, Michael Ironside, Sara Gilbert
Desert Blue is very much like many other movies that came out in the past year. Not that every movie is based in a small, quirky town home to The World’s Largest Ice Cream Cone; it’s that Desert Blue, like many other recent films, is based on the germ of a great idea, but by the end it fails to come to fruition.
The premise of the story is that a teenage cable actress and her father, a professor of cultural history, travel to the fictitious town of Baxter, CA (pop. 87) to visit the aforementioned cone. While they are there, a cola company truck spills a mysterious chemical agent in the town, thus forcing the FBI and the EPA to quarantine its residents and visitors. Some of the townspeople, who have never really wanted to leave before, are immediately consumed with a desire for freedom: from the town, from the evil Empire Cola plant, and from their lives. It’s kind of like a cross between Outbreak and Waiting for Godot.
But this movie is also about the American Dream, about the possibility of making something out of nothing. John Baxter, the visionary who started a revolution in roadside Americana, has left his legacy to his son, Blue, who wants nothing more than to complete the desert water park his father started building before he died. This futile endeavor is not only an attempt to revive the slumping town, but also a way to stop Empire Cola’s thirsty monopoly over the only water source, its aqueduct (which is almost as much of a character as any other resident of Baxter).
At least, this is what the movie is supposed to be about. What really happens, as is the case with so many movies these days, is that the plot starts off quite engagingly, but the unending scenes of prescribed character development hamper what could have been a great story of triumph over adversity. The film’s great idea resembles a rough stone before it gets a chance to become a sculpture; to mix the metaphor, Desert Blue is a chuck of marble in the rough. It’s as though Morgan J. Freeman (writer and director) shot the first draft of the script, sometimes leaving the camera on while the actors played around.
Given these obstacles, much of the acting is still adequate, but I must make one special mention of Blue’s mother, Caroline (Lucinda Jenney). I have not quite figured out why she was cast, but she should definitely be sent back to whatever community theater they dredged her out of. I have never in my life been so annoyed at false-sounding dialogue and ridiculous body language. As for the rest of the seemingly under-directed cast, which includes Christina Ricci, Casey Affleck, Ethan Suplee, Isidra Vega (almost as fake as Jenney), Kate Hudson, Michael Ironside, and Sara Gilbert (sadly underused), the best performance is given by Blue (Brendan Sexton III) himself, who is not only believable, but also undemandingly sympathetic.
The overall undercooked feeling of the movie shouldn’t be surprising, as it blends in with the rest that Hollywood has to offer as of late: half polished scripts and laissez-faire direction. Until things improve, I will be like Blue, who waits for the return of water to the desert, just as I wait for funny, telling movies to emerge once more on the landscape. Desert Blue is merely not the worst way to spend a couple hours in an air-conditioned theater this summer.