Preview, Team “Hell or High Water” presents Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce, “Outlaw King,” for Netflix

Pretty damned ambitious the streaming network Netflix to take on a period piece with a Big Name Star, an acclaimed director and a Scottish icon as its subject.

Chris Pine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Stephen Dillane and Florence Pugh star in David Mackenzie’s “Outlaw King, coming in November to Netflix.

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Preview, A too-young lifeguard comes of “Age of Summer”

Coming of age tales are such a summer thing. Why’s Freestyle releasing this one AFTER summer? Beats me.

More 1980s nostalgia, the big “name” in this is the “legend” of the beach, played by the great character comic Peter Stormare.

Percy Hynes White is “Minnesota” in “Age of Summer,” which also features Jake Ryan and opens Sept. 7.

 

 

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Movie Review: Stu Bennett vows “I Am Vengeance”

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Stu Sanders Wade Barrett is a British wrestler and bare-knuckle boxer turned big screen action hero, where he goes by the name “Stu Bennett.” 

He’s of that Schwarzenegger/Dave Bautista/John Cena class of Action Jacksons, a man mountain any lesser mortal would be a fool to tangle with. Six foot five, 17.5 stone (246 pounds), he doesn’t need a gun.

Which is why he has so many of “I Am Vengeance,” a British B-movie about another “ex-Special Forces” commando out to avenge himself on the blokes what murdered ‘is mate.

I don’t know how many times I have to reiterate this point, but once you’ve established the “special skills” an “extraordinary specimen” has, there’s nothing remotely interesting about watching them pummel and puncture legions of villains in their quest to whatever inane goal the script has set up for them.

“Ordinary woman” or “man on the street” fending off killers is worth a movie. Man Mountain trained to snap necks? Meh.

Bennett is a Mark Strong without the acting chops, baritone, scowling. He’s Dave Bautista or Cena without the light touch. The odd double-take lands. Two bad guys figuring they’ll have his measure and hit the pub?

“First round’s on me, lads,” is almost funny coming out of that lantern jaw.

“Vengeance” is about “a rogue Special Forces” team that has taken over the remote (Hah!) British village of Devotion. We’ve seen them torture this fellow Mason in the opening scene, watched Mason’s reaction to the news that they’ve already murdered his father and mother.

It was Dad’s call, interrupted by gunfire, that John Gold (Bennett) heard on his answering machine. He shows up in Devotion ready to go “all Charles Bronson” on the locals until he’s found the killers.

He shows up in The Old Fox pub, where, like any Old West saloon, “We don’t want no trouble, Mister.” And he announces himself.

“I’m here to find whoever murdered Sgt. Daniel Mason!”

There’s going to be a fight! Or, not yet. Not for the first 40 minutes of this slow-starting, stumbling B-movie.

A cute, flirtatious junkie (Ann Shaffer) might be of some help. Or the local cafe owner Rose (Saffire Elia). Otherwise, Gold is on his on and on the case, storming into drug labs, bowling over “rogue” soldiers who run it, profit from it and defend it — to the death.

Not necessarily by choice.

Gold sets traps for his foes, after fondling his collection of firearms, crossbow and ax in his chosen lair. He lives up to his “one man war machine” rep, even as the hapless Hatcher (Gary Daniels) and all manner of tough guys and just-as-tough (not really) women in league with him are hurled at Gold and bite the dust.

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Writer-director Ross Boyask’s idea of dialogue is a lot of “Look at me,” “Let’s dance!” and “I’m gonna decorate this place in a delicate shade of your skull and brains!”

Guys pause to take off their flak jackets before brawling. In one memorable fight, Gold is pinned between two steroidal stumps and all three stop to watch the junkie freak out on another villain, who doesn’t know what hit him.

Funny.

Sebastian Knapp, who played St. John in “Son of God” a few years ago, stands out in the cast, a sweaty, bug-eyed turn as junkie/dealer Keith, one of the keys to the puzzle.

The mysterious Frost (Mark Griffin) watches all this go down, and has seen the future in an early scene. “Your orders, sir?”

“Orders? Body bags. Lots of them!”

Boyask does manage to stage and shoot some seriously bloody brawls, even if he insists that bad guys point guns at the “one man war machine” and yell “Stay where you are!” Might as well shout “TIME OUT” in the middle of a shoot-out. Silly.

A lifetime of watching this genre has given me an appreciation for the rare films that work and a patience for even the crappy ones, like “I Am Vengeance.” But as much as I love me some fisticuffs and Limey trash talk — “Where do you and the other traitorous wankers hang out?” — there’s just nothing to this one.

Maybe the Hollywood B-action touch could make a star out of Bennett, but if you take away the quasi-Cockney — “Get you fitted for a coffin,” “‘Ave you got a DEAF wish or sumfin?” — and this wouldn’t have merited a drive-in movie booking, back when there were drive-ins.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, drug abuse, profanity

Cast: Stu Bennett, Anna Shaffer, Gary Daniels, Sapphire Elia, Keith Allen

Credits: Written and directed by Ross Boyask . A Saban Films release.

Running time: 1:33

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Netflixable? “Adventures in Public School”

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Screen comedy has given us a few seriously, unintentionally inappropriate parent/child relationships, mostly in the films of Cameron Crowe — Mother/Son in “Almost Famous,” Father/Daughter in “Say Anything.”

But those have nothing on the sometimes amusing, always creepy Mother-Son weirdness of “Adventures in Public School,” which pairs up Judy Greer with Netflix’s go-to-“teen”-boy, Daniel Doheny in a tale that goes “Ewwwww” for laughs.

Claire has home-schooled Liam, prepping him for physics at Cambridge, “where I can study under Stephen Hawking and become the second-most-famous physicist in the world.”

OK, maybe not.

Claire isn’t a religious fanatic. She had dreams, went to the local high school, got pregnant on a field trip and has no intention of letting her “special” brilliant kid get derailed by “a school for stupid people.”

She’s tried to give him everything he would have gotten out of public school, intense study, even a “prom” where only his grandmother and uncle show up — with “I’d like to cut in” mom. She’s drilled Liam in every subject but socializing. He has no friends.

And on the day of the test, this smart kid figures out, with a glance, exactly what he’s missed. He spies the mysterious and beautiful one-legged blonde, Anastasia (Siobhan Williams). There’s nothing for it but to blow the test, insist he attend high school (taking the place of a girl who “got sick,” taking her classes — modern dance, etc.) and give Mom her first-ever dose of Liam rebellion.

Being the ultimate helicopter mom, she hurls herself further into his business — teaching him about condoms. “Trojans, Troy, Sodom” where sodomy was invented — marijuana, “hot boxing” in her late model LTD (with Granny) — tub-side lectures on female anatomy, a sampler night of what underage boys should drink (“wimpy” beers vs. manly ones).

Inappropriate Mom picking Liam up from school is the worst. “Hey kid want some candy! What are you, a pussy?”

A funny moment, setting up the home school classroom (the garage) so she can teach him the teen rebellion mainstay, swearing — Mom egging Liam into dropping the f-bomb.

Netflix teen comedies lean into sexuality, substance abuse and profanity, and “Adventures in Public School” leans hard. Rarely has a teen comedy put so much effort into checking off minor tests of the motion picture ratings board. They’re shooting for “dirtiest teen comedy on Netflix,” as if that’s a goal worth pursuing.

Still, Judy Greer is just the sort of movie mom who could introduce herself with “I’m freezing my tits off out here.”

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The whole Pursuit of Anastasia thing is generic and a non-starter. A boy’s first girlfriend is his mother is the heart of this, and your reaction to that determines how you’ll respond to this comedy. Yeah, the other kids can vouch for her “MILF” status. One can only hope if he gets that notion, it’s with another home schooling mom.

Get past the “Ick” stuff, the fears of “How much further are they going to take this?” and “Adventures in Public School” hits the occasional sweet spot. Liam pretending to be “Maria Sanchez” for the school year is one of them.

Russell Peters is the clueless guidance counselor who directs every kid, even Liam who is into astronomy –counselor cannot even SPELL it — into “massage therapy.”

Andrew McNee is the ditzy principal who lusts after Claire, even as he insults home schooling as “sitting around the house, making up pirate stories.”

Doheny (“The Package”) is a charmingly hapless leading man, and Greer is a comic force of nature. When she and another home-schooling mom (Grace Park) bond over their contempt for public schools and protecting their kids all the way into adulthood — “Nobody’s having sex with them but us…with us…with us AROUND” — you realize nobody else could have pulled off this vulgarian as sweetly.

The teacher who responds to a homophobic slur with annoyance, then an admission that yes, there’s another teacher of the same sex that he’s been with, but “just that one,” the teen sexting, the condom-installation-stopwatch test, labels this “teen” film something else.

Is “Adventures in Public School” appropriate for young kids, the 14-and-unders with Netflix as their baby sitter? Certainly not. This is some seriously adult, flirt-with-pervy “TV-14” doesn’t really cover it stuff.

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MPAA Rating: TV-14

Cast:  Daniel Doheny, Judy Greer, Siobhan Williams, Alex Barima, Russell Peters

Credits:Directed by Kyle Rideout, script by Josh Epstein, Kyle Rideout. A Gravitas/Netflix release.

Running time: 1:26

 

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Movie Review: Oh, the small town trouble she stirs up, just by opening “The Bookshop”

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“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” the poet said. People don’t like change, we understand it to mean.

If only Florence Green knew the poets as well as she loved novelists, she could have avoided a world of trouble, setting up a bookshop in her sleepy English coastal village in the late 1950s.

Who would have thought “The Bookshop” would stir so much enmity among the conservatives and those under their thumbs in tiny Hardborough?

Penelope Fitzgerald’s parable about politics and power applied in the most close-minded ways comes to the screen in a lovely, stately and painfully slow film by the director of “Learning to Drive” and “Elegy.” Whatever life Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy and Patricia Clarkson try to breathe into it adapter/director Isabel Coixet sucks right out.

Mortimer is Mrs. Green, a widowed book-lover who decides the long empty “Old House” at the end of Hardborough’s main street would be a good location for a bookshop. She could live upstairs and run the shop below, and even the patronizing banker (Hunter Tremayne in a huff) has to admit she’s done her homework.

But the moment she starts to move in the trouble begins. A retiring fish monger suggests his shop would be a better location. Her solicitor (Jorge Suquet) mentions “There are many other properties” she could take on. A rake from the BBC (James Lance) who lives there wonders if she’s thought of “moving out?”

All because the town’s wealthy snob, self-appointed patroness and “nothing gets done here without my approval” empress (Clarkson) has her own ideas for The Old House.

“We’ve all been praying for a good bookshop in our town,” she purrs, even as she’s suggesting Mrs. Green would be the perfect “manager” for her own plans for The Old House — an arts center.

It’s just that Mrs. Green won’t be put off. “She had a great heart and enormous patience” our narrator (Julie Christie) tells us. She’ll need them.

The story is spun through with promising threads. The biggest reader in town, everyone knows, is the reclusive Mr. Brundish, given his usual dapper turn by Bill Nighy. He informs — by letter — Mrs. Green, that he hails the arrival of The Old House Bookshop “in this forsaken corner of the world,” and promises his support. Sort of. Any time she finds a new work “of literary merit” she can send it to him by messenger, with a note about it and its price, and he’ll buy it.

She sends him Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” and rocks his world.

There are no secrets in a small town, and the only other truly helpful fellow, a fisherman/ferryman, Mr Raven (Michael Fitzgerald) sends his group of young Sea Scouts to help set up shop. Others assure Florence she’ll need an assistant, and run through the sisters in a populous, needy family until the curly, outspoken tween Christine (plucky Honor Kneafsey) is sent to fill a job Mrs. Green didn’t think she needed.

The era in publishing seems sure to gin up controversy, with Bradbury, Nabokov (“Lolita”) and others stirring up the world with their words.

But the viper in velvet gloves Violet (Clarkson) is marshaling her forces and hellbent on getting her way, so Florence will need all the help — and sales — she can get.

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There are potent metaphors about provincialism, the inbred intransigence of the ruling class, the temerity of their “inferiors,” English xenophobia and the like, timely in the Brexit age and the hand-wringing that’s accompanied it.

That and the characters are all Coixet focuses on, rarely letting “charming” or amusing seep into this town where the powers that be have decreed time must stand still until they say otherwise.

Clarkson’s passive-aggressive villainy lets us understand the general malaise, bordering on malevolence,  which the locals have absorbed. This outsider is just stirring things up. Mortimer beautifully embodies a “Keep Calm and Ignore the Harpy” stoicism and Nighy, playing the latest in a long line of kind, remote, thoughtful and dapper eccentrics, adds a warmth the film sorely needs.

Whatever the ethos of the novel, the filmgoer wants to see the light — the hope that the recluse and the shop owner will bond over books, the children’s eyes opened to the wider world, a funny battle of wits and wills over The Old House, a nice comic uproar over Green’s selling copy after copy of the scandalous “Lolita.”

All hinted at, teased and ignited, only to be snuffed out in Coixet’s still-life direction. Message and metaphor are all and “The Bookshop,” with its terrific cast and lovely setting, barely overcomes that burden.
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MPAA Rating:PG for some thematic elements, language, and brief smoking |

Cast: Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, James Lance, Honor Kneafsey

Credits:Directed by Isabel Coixet, script by based on the Penelope Fitzgerald novel. A Greenwich release.

Running time: 1:58

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Movie Review: “Dead Envy”

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“Dead Envy” is a micro-budget indie thriller that doesn’t give away its credit-card financing.

Slick, musical and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, Harley Di Nardo’s “make work for myself” project limits its settings, situations and run time to pull off a minor miracle of a movie — a Venice, California project at Venice, Florida prices.

When your sets are a couple of “movie” bars (fake), a hair salon, a couple of street scenes to establish location and a house, you too can make a movie on the cheap that doesn’t look cut-rate.

Di Nardo, who directed, stars in and co-wrote “Envy,” is David Tangiers, a too-old-to-rock-n-roll band leader whose latest (The Dead Rebels) are a ’50s throwback. Before that, it was Tatonic Spin, and so on.

“How old ARE you?” his manager (Joey Medina) wants to know.

“Thirty…eight!”

We meet David as he’s losing yet another Battle of the Bands contest in a Venice bar. His ’50s-style greaser ballad gets him heckled, though not by his wife Cecily (Samantha Smart) or this one creeper of a fan.

Javy, played by veteran character actor Adam Reeser (“San Andreas,” “Steve Jobs”), is like a big fan. A very big fan. The fact that he wears a Hitler haircut and keeps his shirts and Army jacket buttoned to the very top, like some Master Race Adam Scott? David doesn’t let that scare him.

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David invites Javy to his Art Rock hair salon and pretty much into his life, creeping out the staff, the other customers (Carla Wynn plays an amusing not-so-silent investor). Javy, it turns out, has a secret — he rocks out, too, writes songs. Javy has other secrets which the movie gets around to — eventually.

“Dead Envy” teases us along through David’s frustrating life, not-making-ends-meet while taking “one last shot” at his dream of music fame. Javy could be his secret weapon, or his downfall.

The acting is, as you might expect from even the cheapest picture shot in film acting’s Mecca, pretty good across the board, with Smart standing out, Reeser managing the odd skin-crawling moment and Di Nardo milking his Mark Ruffalo who can Sing vibe. Not bad for a guy who is an actual hair-dresser with rock star (And movie star?) dreams.

Di Nardo knows how to shoot bands and live music on the cheap, and the script (co-written with Stacey Hullah) has a flippant wit that gets it through the early acts.

But their payoff, the “thrills” in the “thriller,” is nothing. Whatever dread we feared leading up to it, the climax deflates in a heartbeat despite Reeser’s bust-a-bottle-over-my-head efforts.

Workshop this script and maybe you figure out you’ve got a dark comedy on your hands, and joke up the third act accordingly. As it is, “Dead Envy” won’t make anybody else trying to film a thriller in Venice Beach for $50,000 jealous — much.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, sexual situations, alcohol, drugs

Cast:Harley DiNardo, Samatha Smart, Adam Reeser, Carla Wynn

Credits:Directed by Harley Di Nardo, script by Harley Di Nardo, Stacy Hullah. A Random Media release.

Running time: 1:12

 

 

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Netflixable? “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”

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Netflix’s full court press into teen romantic comedies raises its won-loss percentage with “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” a well-cast, well-acted charmer from the director of “Carrie Pilby.”

No, me neither, but Susan Johnson ensures this adaptation of the Jenny Han novel maintains a wistful, winsome view of first love, first scene to last.

Casting does it. Lana Candor graduates from small parts in “Patriot’s Day” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” with this fresh, unforced turn, playing a shy teen who keeps a diary and more importantly, keeps a hope chest of letters to every crush she’s ever had.

She’s 16, her older sister Margot (Janel Parrish) is headed to college in Scotland, and as she’s embraced that “You can’t go to college with a boyfriend” ethos, maybe shy Lara Jean (Candor) can tell Big Sis’s beau Josh (Israel Broussard) how she really feels.

As if.

But when baby sis Kitty (Anna Cathcart) mails those letters — to the guy Lara Jean crushed on in seventh grade, to the fellow she hearted in camp, another at Model U.N., etc. — SOMEbody’s life is about to get complicated.

Josh is on that list, but a mortified Lara Jean realizes what Kitty before Josh can confront her. Peter (Noah Centineo) drives a Jeep, has a whole Young Joe Manganiello vibe — funny, cute, masculine, confident. And as Lara Jean crushes on Josh and he would love to get Hot Gen (Emilija Baranac) back, maybe they can fake a relationship that will both get them what they want.

There’s a negotiation, a “contract.” No, he can’t keep locking lips with her in public. He got the wrong idea from her long-ago-written/just mailed note. He figures “You have my face tattooed on your ass.”

She’s like, “How about this? You can put your hand in my back pocket.”

“Hand in the back pocket? What the hell’s that?

“Sixteen Candles.” He’s never seen it. She’s determined that this “fake” romance never be revealed.

He has to watch “Sixteen Candles” with her. She has to watch Fight Club with him, as there’s “no snitching” in “Fight Club” either.

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They’ll do stuff together — “PARTIES are in the contract.” He’ll pass her notes. The invisible Lara Jean suddenly gets noticed by the Mean Girls. But if it their plans pay off, by class “ski trip,” notorious for its sexual activity, they’ll be split up and hooked up with their dream dates.

Their chemistry is the stuff rom-coms depend on.

The 11 year old curses, just a bit. “She’s fiesty!”

Widowed Dad (John Corbett) just happens to be an gynecologist — setting up a frank, funny talk about pregnancy prevention.

One of Lara Jean’s “crushes” from long ago has grown up to be ready to be her GBF — gay best friend and confidante (Trezzo Maharo, fun and spot on).

And this sunny little romance is set in lovely Vancouver, finally not made up to resemble New York or AnyTown, America.

Netflix’s teen films position it right where those John “Sixteen Candles” Hughes rom-coms were, back in the day — sassy, smart, culturally aware. Yeah, kids are sexually active younger, but you can suggest that and be responsible about it.

And you can deliver consequences, to underscore that point.

We know so much about where this is going that expecting this to surprise anybody over 15 is a reach. Abrupt shifts in the narrative are jarring, voice over narration is lazy filmmaking, no matter how much it’s “from the novel.” But Johnson’s film holds its own with earlier winners in the Netflix stable, movies often directed by women.

“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is more proof that Netflix has not just elbowed itself a place at the table, its knocked the table over and reset it by its rules.

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MPAA Rating: TV-14

Cast: Lana Condor, Noah CentineoJanel Parrish, Madeline Arthur, Anna Cathcart, John Corbett

Credits:Directed by Susan Johnson, script by Sofia Alvarez, based on the Jenny Han novel. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:40

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Preview, “The Oath” lets Tiffany Haddish, Nora Dunn, John Cho and friends get political

Ike Barinholtz wrote, directed and co-stars in this “ruin Thanksgiving by talking politics with your Trumpist relatives” farce.

“The Oath” has a good cast, some chuckles in the trailer, but nobody will see it. It’s with dirt-merchants Roadside Attractions, so don’t get your hopes up.

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BOX OFFICE: “Crazy Rich Asians” has a $25 million weekend, “Mile 22” and “Alpha” bomb

crazyAs Matty M. loves to say, “Awright awright awright…”

So my initial hunch that the heavily-hyped “Crazy Rich Asians” would overcome the lack of star power in the cast and the narrow demo in its marketing and hit $35 million was more on the money than all the kvetching many of us did when the film opened mildly and didn’t set the world on fire before the weekend. $30 million was the consensus, with a few folks figuring high $20s as its opening week ceiling.

“Crazy Rich Asians” has made over $34 million since Wed., over $25 million for the weekend. It’s a Westernized Chinese diaspora comic sensation! Or something like that. Big hit, especially for August.

“The Meg” finished second with another strong weekend — $21 million and change.

“Mile 22,” the STX Wahlberg/Berg/Trumpist confused and inane action picture managed $13 million+.

“Alpha,” a surprisingly good (above average, anyway) kids’ action film about a prehistoric boy and the wolf who becomes his prehistoric dog, only managed $10.5 million.

“Asians” was the only one of the new releases to have any brand identity, thanks to Kevin Kwan’s hit trashy novels. Yeah, there are two others. So brace yourself for more of the same. Kudos to Warners for marketing the hell out of that thing.

 

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Movie Review: “Painted Woman”

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With Hollywood largely abandoning that most distinctly America film genre, The Western, it’s encouraging that independent filmmakers and start-up studios are at least trying to revive it.

But getting one to come off — the looks, sounds and feels rawhide, dust and tumbleweeds authentic — is proving damned difficult.

I stumbled across “Painted Woman” as my father was feeding his Showtime/Westerns cable addiction, a rare title that isn’t a big screen classic, B-movie “oater” and isn’t “Lonesome Dove” — the staples of such channels.

It’s based on a Dusty Richards novel, one of his “Brandiron” novel series — he’s rightly described as “prolific” within this paperback genre — features, horses, guns, a stagecoach and Oklahoma settings. That the title of that book is “The Mustanger and the Lady” tells you adapter/director James Cotten (“Sugar Creek,” “La Linea”) changed the focus, somewhat.

It’s about a brutalized “kept woman,” a hooker kicked up and down the line (Australian redhead Stef Dawson) whose deliverance from the rich brute who keeps her (Robert Craighead) may depend on a hired gun (Matt Dallas) or a horse catcher/trainer (David Thomas Jenkins).

Her jealous “owner” has reason to be suspicious of Frank Dean (Dallas). Her “I belong to you” is no reassurance. The old man beats her at will and she takes it as if it’s a life she’s grown used to, if not accepted.

Dean may give her hope with “A gentleman never strikes a lady,” but will be go against his nature, contract, gunman’s code, what have you, to save her?

And then there’s the guy she runs up on when she makes a break for it.

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A famous classical music critic once remarked that he could tell if a performer or orchestra was bad within a minute or so. Movies are the same way. “Painted Woman” is death itself, earnest and appropriately costumed, but static, flatly lit and photographed, almost instantly awful.

It’s a film with no forward motion at all through the early scenes, underlit, dully acted, ineptly directed and edited. When Old Man Allison (Craighaid) yells at Julie to “Get over here,” the film cuts to her, sees her stand, then start her slow walk and follows her across the room.

Nothing registers — not fear, not dread, not urgency. Cut to her in motion and the scene is animated. Instead, it just lies there like an uninteresting portrait intended for a barroom wall — unfinished, with us watching the paint dry. “Painted Woman” is an endless succession of such scenes with no motion, nothing to drive them or lure us in.

Roles like this are rare for actresses, and a movie like “Painted Woman” might have attracted one — an ambitious second-banana on TV looking for work on a hiatus, a young-ish “name” who hasn’t worked for a while. If the script’s good, they’ll come, no matter how thin the up-front pay.

The script isn’t good. The fact that Cotten couldn’t lure somebody with a little box office ID and charisma to play the part should have told him, “This script needs more work.”

He’s made a Western that will confuse and bore Western fans, and a character drama that won’t reach anybody else because the characters are dull and the no-name performances barely competent, utterly lacking in charisma.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, adult themes

Cast: Stef Dawson, Matt Dallas, David Thomas Jenkins, Kiowa Gordon Robert Craighead

Credits:Directed by James Cotten, script by James Cotten and Amber Lindley, based on a Dusty Richards novel. An SP release.

Running time: 1:48

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