A pretty good cast consisting of two Oscar winners and two Oscar nominees withers on the vine, waiting for a first time director to get on with things in “Same Kind of Different as Me,” a faith-based drama of the “Every Homeless Person has a Story” variety.
Interminable? Pretty much. We’re given a prologue that sets up a story we figure out in advance. And we spend the rest of the movie waiting for the still-a-fine-actress Renee Zellweger’s character to die and for the raging homeless man (the noble Djimon Hounsou) to finish telling us the origins of his rage.
Spoiler alert? Not in the least. It’s teased in that “I’m writing a book” and “this house is broken” opening.
What’s also a given is that the heavy lifting here will be done by the always-on-the-edge-of-tears Greg Kinnear, perhaps well-suited for the faith based genre — he fakes sincere piety and concern well — but eternally, exhaustingly dull in this outing.
He plays a high-flying Dallas art dealer who cheats — on his wife, anyway. She (Zellweger) faces this news with spine and stoicism. I really liked her call-the-other-woman scene, novel in its approach, well-acted.
Her “fix” and “condition” for saving that marriage and bringing Ron back to the huge Texas house where they were raising their kids, is that Mr. Million Dollar Sales has to drive her in his vintage Mercedes to the soup kitchen where she volunteers.
He has to volunteer, too. And when she sees the “man in her dream,” a bat-armed crazy man named “Denver” (Hounsou), Ron’s job is to feed him, befriend him and heal him.
That means getting past the car window Denver smashes, the endless threats and always-scary eyes. That means hearing his story.
First-time writer, producer and director Michael Carney stages one static scene after another, plodding his way through this story built on the book Hall, Denver Moore and Lynn Vincent assembled from the odd intersection of the two men’s lives.
Its title — “Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together,” is more spoiler alert than any mere movie could be.
We are treated to the flashbacks of Denver’s awful childhood, the isolation of the share-cropping life in the Deep South, the source of the man’s rage against people in general, white people in particular.
Zellweger brings that lovely vulnerability that “Jerry Maguire” first introduced to the world. That she has altered her appearance in the years since doesn’t diminish the actress she is, even if this script is thin gruel for someone with her chops.
Hounsou makes Denver a vivid, flesh-and-blood person, but that again is no thanks to the script or the direction, which makes his flashbacks play agonizingly slow.
Jon Voight shows up as Ron’s racist drunk ultra-conservative daddy. The drunk part, at least, is a stretch for that ageing, wingnutty Oscar winner these days.
And Kinnear? He’s just what you’d expect, earnest, open-hearted. The thing is, it’s friction that makes drama, a journey that makes a story arc. Kinnear can’t seem to manage those these days. There’s no edge to this guy, who has to be a “Master of the Universe” hustler in his line of work in that part of the country. Even his “cheating” seems boring.
Getting a laugh out of Klan robes is easy, but Carney can’t quite land it. Earning tears from a terminal diagnosis on a cruel, hard life should take no effort at all.
Carney can’t manage that, either. A shorter, tighter picture would have subjected us to fewer flat scenes that only advance the plot in baby steps. Lose the opening and closing this is framed in and maybe the movie adds some urgency.
It begins and ends with the utterly enervated, drained and casting about for a book his character wants to write (he didn’t, it’s an “as told to” sort of tale) story frame. That makes the movie utterly reliant on sparks Kinnear doesn’t often provide in movies these days.
He can play bad. Watch “The Way Way Back” to see how well. As Hall had a handLetting the subject of the movie have a hand in the script is the best way I know how to rub all the failings, sharp edges and stuff of drama right off them. Jerks finding redemption make for interesting drama. It’s a pity Hall wouldn’t let himself be played that way.
This is just bland — as bland as only Greg Kinnear can make it.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements including some violence and language
Cast: Greg Kinnear Djimon Hounsou, Renee Zellweger, Jon Voight
Credits:Directed by Michael Carney, script by Michael Carney, Alexander Foard and Ron Hall, based on the Ron Hall/Denver Moore/Lynn Vincent book . A Pure Flix release.