Like a forgotten bowl of potato salad at a picnic, something’s slightly ‘off’ in John Doyle’s debut pic. He’s the imaginative fellow who made his theatrical bones on downsized musical revivals where all the actors double on instruments, becoming their own orchestra. But working off a final script from Horton Foote, who died at 92 before filming began, Doyle can’t find the right key to play in. Colin Firth, cozying up to an unlikely Texas accent, is the stranger in town, a salesman who wants to revive an economically depressed city by building a spanking new Hazardous Wastes treatment plant. He's promising Jobs, Parks, a Growing Tax Base & a Community Swimming Pool . . . Deadly Spillage optional. But the guy’s such a charmer, he quickly wins over prickly natives like slightly addled Ellen Burstyn, available Patricia Clarkson and members of the city council. Meanwhile, lonely cop Orlando Bloom (excellent in a funny haircut) is pining for Amber Tamblyn (not so excellent). She’s his old high school flame, but now just wants to leave town. The set up is promising, playing out like an Americanized take on THE VISIT, the famous play about a broke little town who can ‘earn’ a million bucks if they’ll just murder their mayor to please the world’s richest woman. But rather than watch his cast stew & capitulate to Firth’s capitalistic siren song, Foote just mozeys along for two acts before tossing in some nakedly motivational melodrama for a quick resolution. It might have worked if Doyle didn’t play everything in strict naturalistic tones. But his view of a genteel decaying South is too tame for its own good.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Director Elia Kazan was never wilder than when he went all Deep-Fried Southern in Tennessee Williams’ comedy of thwarted passion BABY DOLL/’56.