Sunday, October 21, 2007

Traveling Reservations

Reservation Road [R]
Grade: F

Do you remember all those bland, earnest, inertly sensitive short stories you suffered in college lit class while waiting for the Nabokov, Pynchon, or DeLillo? Reservation Road is the film version of all those stories.

Set in a Connecticut town where the police are better stocked with common decency than common sense, the film, based on a John Burnham Schwartz novel, borrows that staple of such stories, the aftermath of a child’s death, in this case killed in a hit-and-run accident alongside the titular road. So you know we’ll soon be “examining the family’s inner lives” as they “find a way to cope with the tragedy.”

The boy’s mother and father (Jennifer Connelly and Joaquin Phoenix) will be on the verge of throwing things, or smacking things, or spilling things (Someone should hide the good dishes.). The perpetrator (Mark Ruffalo) and his sweat glands will be on the verge of taking out the nearby dam. The deceased’s darling, piano-playing kid sister will be on the verge of asking heart-tugging questions like “Do the angels hear music in Heaven?” Everyone will be on the verge of shouting and/or crying. And you should be on the verge of ritual suicide.

For the record, Connelly and her ethereal peepers look perpetually confused and concerned. Mark Ruffalo raises the bar on looking shabby. Phoenix mistakes growing a beard for emotional intensity. Director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) runs a tidy store while adding nothing emotionally or imaginatively. The whole thing reeks of well-meaning professionalism, but it’s a stale professionalism that leaves no skidmarks of ambition along the roadside.

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