Movie Review: Don’t wade into this shallow “River”

Here’s one of the side benefits of spending a lifetime in journalism — learning to listen, paying attention to not just what people you’re interviewing say, but how they express it.

And if you don’t stop at merely taking notes, but record the conversations, you don’t just hear them once. As you’re transcribing someone’s exact words to quote them accurately, or editing audio for a broadcast interview, you hear the music of speech and the way people actually talk.

So when you hear a film character remark, “Not even in death did he show up,” you wonder if you’ve stumbled into a vampire movie, if the actress blew a line or if cinematographer turned writer-director Emily Skye has never listened to the other half of a conversation in her life.

The dialogue she cooks up for her half-cocked debut, “River,” is some of the most trite, atonal and English-mangling I’ve ever had the burden of reviewing.

And since she has her heroine, River (Mary Cameron Rogers, not awful) talk almost incessantly in that laziest of storytelling tropes, “voice over narration,” line after line of pointless banalities and inane cliches and verbal crutches and the like, that’s pretty much all you need to know about “River,” which takes its title from the Carolina woman who comes home after her mother’s death and sort of picks up the life she left behind a year before.

We hear “take ownership of your life” and “I just want you to live a full life…don’t be like me,” and “It’s OK to grieve” and “just take it day by day” and “a year is a long time” and “We love you, Riv, and we’re here for you.”

“Why does everyone here keep TELLING me that?” “What does that even MEAN?” Still, in my voice-over I know, “I can DO this.”

River takes up with her old BFF Amanda (Alexandra Rose), goes back to work for the rural locally made jams and notions shop, run by a licensed psychotherapist (how handy) played by Courtney Gains.

And she flirts with the idea of taking up with her old beau, Jamie (Rob Marshall), who just got engaged.

All of which point to her being a tad off in the head, which is engineered into the “story” because this is no-budget science fiction. As in River disappears for a week with no idea what happened to her. As in her friends pick up on her walking blackouts. As in River never saw “Fire in the Sky,” but her writer-director did.

The leads are competent, with a few wincingly-obvious exceptions. But this dull, tin-eared script, a trite story leadenly told, never gives them a chance.

Drown this one in the bathtub.

MPA Rating: unrated, PG-13ish

Cast: Mary Cameron Rogers, Alexandra Rose, Rob Marshall and Courtney Gains

Credits: Scripted and directed by Emily Skye. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:32

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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