An offbeat comedy about two dirt-poor, simple-minded brothers who go in search of a surrogate mom and find more than they bargained for, "Dirt" is a zany and inspired item in the Coen brothers mold.

An offbeat comedy about two dirt-poor, simple-minded brothers who go in search of a surrogate mom and find more than they bargained for, “Dirt” is a zany and inspired item in the Coen brothers mold. Whether its quirkiness reps too great a gamble for potential distributors is open to question, but it’s conceivable this item could gain a steady arthouse following; even so, a more enticing title wouldn’t hurt.

Think “Raising Arizona” meets “Happy, Texas,” and you get a feel for the texture of “Dirt.” As the story begins, brothers Junior (Michael Covert) and Scooter (Trace Fraim), both grown men, are burying their mother in the West Texas hills. Opening moments establish pic’s intriguingly eccentric tone: We don’t know whether they’re murderers or loving sons, but one thing is clear: These emotionally underdeveloped boys need someone to look after them.

Their first attempt to find a replacement mom has the boys meeting a hooker (an outrageously campy Jennifer Tilly), who swindles them for $35. Their next effort seems equally doomed: When they kidnap DeDe (Tara Choco), a fetching cashier at the Piggly Wiggly, she is initially outraged, but it turns out she has her own reasons for wanting a new life: Married to Vincent (Patrick Warburton), a violent and philandering sheriff, she yearns to find a stable home for her baby daughter.

After no end of complications, the boys and the sheriff finally all meet in prison and settle their business, but by this point the story has taken several unexpected turns, so the final act packs a number of surprises.

Co-directors Fraim and Covert (the latter of whom wrote the movie as a valentine to his late mom), imbue the proceedings with an endearingly goofy charm. Perfs are first rate, with special kudos to Warburton (Puddy from “Seinfeld”), who plays the beer-bellied, pistol-swinging heavy with a villainous intensity that recalls J.T. Walsh. Almost unrecognizable, though unforgettable, is Luke Perry in a bit part as Vincent’s lisping lawyer.

Tech assets include brisk editing by William Fletcher and Rod Dean and impressive lensing by Seo Mutarevic; juxtaposing washed-out henna landscapes with crisp blue skies, Mutarevic ably captures and defines the characters’ milieu.

Dirt

Production

A Canned Pictures presentation. Produced by Trudi Callon, Kirk Hassig. Co-producer, Joanne Hoffman. Directed by Michael Covert, Trace Fraim. Screenplay, Covert.

Crew

Camera (FotoKem color), Seo Mutarevic; editors, William Fletcher, Rod Dean; music, Tommy Coster; music supervisor, Allan Mason; production designer, Cody Rogers; costume designer, Beth Goodman; sound (Dolby), Srdjan Popovic; casting, Jami Rudofsky. Reviewed at L. A. Film Festival, April 28, 2001. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Junior - Michael Covert Scooter - Trace Fraim Vincent - Patrick Warburton DeDe - Tara Chocol Margaret - Olivia Rosewood Attorney - Luke Perry The Hooker - Jennifer Tilly

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