The story of a single father coming to terms with his responsibilities, “A Cool, Dry Place” is the kind of plodding, conventional fare usually reserved for TV movies. Only the marquee status of lead Vince Vaughn would seem to justify pic’s limited theatrical release, but an utter lack of publicity and fanfare from Fox 2000 points to a short, forgettable run, with video prospects a more bankable probability.
Vaughn plays Russ Durrell, a lawyer trying to raise his 5-year-old son following the unexpected departure of his wife, Kate (Monica Potter). Eighteen months into his single-parent stint, Russ is finally learning to juggle son Calvin (Bobby Moat), his law work and his high school basketball coaching. He’s also beginning to appreciate the subtle charms of rural Kansas, for which he forsook a demanding Chicago job when Kate left.
At last ready to rejoin the social arena, Russ meets the comely young veterinarian’s assistant Beth (Joey Lauren Adams), who takes an instant liking to Calvin. But just when Russ and Beth get comfortable, the estranged wife appears, as suddenly as she left. Although her feelings for Russ are unclear, Kate has definite plans to reassert her presence in Calvin’s life. Russ, for his part, is torn between his enduring feelings for his son’s mother and his affection for Beth.
When a lucrative job in Dallas emerges, Russ senses the career he temporarily sacrificed for Calvin is about to get back on track. Here, Jean Lepine’s lensing none too subtly plays up the distinctions between small-town Kansas (actually rural Ontario, Canada) and slick, steely Dallas. Whereas the sprawling, amber-lit wheat fields of bucolic Kansas look positively inviting, the Dallas sequences feel angular, cramped and harshly lit.
Helmer John N. Smith (“Dangerous Minds”) has a straightforward, if not particularly inspired, approach to the material and the actors. Vaughn does what he can with the part, but his unimpassioned demeanor obscures the vulnerability that would have made Russ a more empathetic character. One craves the tenderness of Tom Hanks’ widower dad in “Sleepless in Seattle” or the sentimental journey of Dustin Hoffman’s divorced father in “Kramer vs. Kramer,” but Vaughn’s Russ doesn’t feel as lived-in as those memorable performances. And given Vaughn’s recent turn as Norman Bates, two scenes — one in a shower, another at a motel — are unintentionally funny.
Supporting thesps Potter and Adams play their underwritten roles as sympathetically as Matthew McDuffie’s script will allow. Music by Curt Sobel is unobtrusive and, like the rest of the film, not especially memorable.