Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Desert Blue

By Marc Savlov

JUNE 7, 1999: 

D: Morgan J. Freeman; with Brendan Sexton III, Kate Hudson, Christina Ricci, John Heard, Lucinda Jenney, Casey Affleck, Sara Gilbert, Isidra Vega, Ethan Suplee, Michael Ironside. (R, 87 min.)

Just because a film is "quirky" that doesn't necessarily make it interesting. Morgan J. Freeman's follow-up to his much ballyhooed Hurricane Streets is 90-plus minutes of oddball characters wandering restlessly around a barren New Mexico township, searching presumably for life, love, and answers, and finding very little of any substance. While it's filled with vaguely interesting performances from all on board (Sara Gilbert, late of TV's Roseanne, is utterly wasted, however), the whole of the film just leaves you scratching your head and wondering "Why?" "Why not?" seems to be Freeman's motivation in this relentlessly pointless film, and though the characters may be interesting at times, too often they come off as stock "indie" filler. Sexton plays Blue, the lone resident of the town who seems to have any ambition going for him. That ambition, odd though it might be, is to finish construction on his late father's landlocked waterpark, a snaking, incomplete network of pastel-blue tubes that he hopes will someday put the town on the map. It's more a misguided labor of love than anything else, but Blue is determined to make it work, water or no. Ricci plays Ely, a mad bomber in training who spends her days wandering around town setting off pipe bombs and yammering on about blowing herself up someday. Freeman is vague about Ely's motivations here -- she could be a lovable, heavily mascaraed headcase or just a lunatic in search of an asylum. Both Ricci and Freeman are mum, however. Things take a turn for the sublimely ridiculous, however, when dad John Heard and his daughter Skye (Hudson) arrive in town one day to visit "the world's largest ice cream cone," the sort of roadside demi-attraction you only seem to stumble across while driving America's least-traveled interstates. Alas, it's dad's idea to make the pilgrimage and Skye, a budding television actress, hates it all until she strikes up a relationship with the shy, reticent Blue. Blue and Skye, despite their too-obvious names, fall head over heels in love over the course of the next few days, as the town is quarantined by the FBI after a tractor-trailer containing the secret ingredients for a new cola brand overturns and results in the death of the rig's driver. Death by soda-pop misadventure is one of the least likely ways to die in the desert, I'd think, but Freeman milks the MacGuffin for all it's worth. Meanwhile, the townspeople use this as an excuse to wander about and spit out dull platitudes and duller romance. Big deal. The film perks up when Ricci wanders onscreen with explosives in hand, but most of the time it's an exercise in indie futility. Like the desert, there doesn't seem to be all that much going on here, and Freeman, sticking to the obvious surface of things, does little to engage any more than our passing interest in it all.
2.0 stars

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