Sensitive direction and controlled, often affecting performances are undermined by an unsatisfying scriptin "Little Boy Blue," the story of an unbalanced Vietnam veteran's destruction of his family. Soberly told despite its Texan trailer-park setting and such Southern Gothic staples as tragedy, incest and buried secrets, this reasonably involving drama appears headed for cable, rather than the festival exposure that was given to Australian-Italian director Antonio Tibaldi's previous features, "On My Own" and "Correre Contro."

Sensitive direction and controlled, often affecting performances are undermined by an unsatisfying scriptin “Little Boy Blue,” the story of an unbalanced Vietnam veteran’s destruction of his family. Soberly told despite its Texan trailer-park setting and such Southern Gothic staples as tragedy, incest and buried secrets, this reasonably involving drama appears headed for cable, rather than the festival exposure that was given to Australian-Italian director Antonio Tibaldi’s previous features, “On My Own” and “Correre Contro.”

Nineteen-year-old Jimmy (Ryan Phillippe) decides not to leave for college with his girlfriend, Traci (Jenny Lewis), because he’s reluctant to leave his kid brothers (Devon Michael, Adam Burke) at the mercy of their boozing, hotheaded father, Ray (John Savage). Despite Ray’s hostile paranoia and incapacity to love, his wife, Kate (Nastassja Kinski), remains loyal, even when Ray forces Jimmy to sleep with her for his own warped sexual kicks.

As the father-son bond disintegrates, disturbing truths come to light — above all, that the boys are not Ray’s sons, but Jimmy’s. More secrets from the past are uncovered by local police investigating the death of a private detective who was snooping around the bar run by Ray and Kate. The arrival of a vengeful woman (Shirley Knight), whose life was ruined by Ray years earlier, brings retribution and the possibility of renewal.

Michael Boston’s script doesn’t lay enough tracks to keep the various plot strands smoothly on course: Ray’s mental and physical war injuries, the investigation into the detective’s death, Jimmy’s attempts to delve into his father’s past, and Jimmy’s disappearance and the efforts of his cop buddy (Tyrin Turner) and Traci to locate him. Many of these elements are introduced somewhat abruptly, and the lack of solid exposition robs certain events of their impact.

Cast generally is strong, especially Kinski and Phillippe, who fully convey the anxiety and fatigue of living under Ray’s reign of terror. Savage is suitably menacing, but perhaps less successful at letting in a hint of understanding for his shellshocked character in his more vulnerable moments. Tibaldi appears an able director of children in the scenes with Jimmy’s brothers.

Australian d.p. Ron Hagen, who shot Geoffrey Wright’s “Romper Stomper” and “Metal Skin,” gives the pic a cool, somber look, and Stewart Copeland’s moody score adds to the atmosphere.

Little Boy Blue

Production

A Jazz Pictures production. (International sales: Curb Entertainment, Burbank , Calif.) Produced by Amedeo Ursini. Executive producer, Virginia Giritlian. Directed by Antonio Tibaldi. Screenplay, Michael Boston.

Crew

Camera (color), Ron Hagen; editors, Tibaldi, Tobin Taylor; music, Stewart Copeland; music supervisor , Frank Fitzpatrick; production design, John A. Frick; set decoration, Gabriella Villarreal; costume design, April Ferry; sound (Dolby), Jennifer Murphy; line producer, Ginger Sledge; assistant director, Tim Bird; casting, Michelle Guillermin. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 9, 1997. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Jimmy West ..... Ryan Phillippe Kate West ..... Nastassja Kinski Ray West ..... John Savage Nate Carr ..... Tyrin Turner Traci Connor ..... Jenny Lewis Doris Knight ..... Shirley Knight Andy Berg ..... John Doman Mark West ..... Devon Michael Mikey West ..... Adam Burke

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