“Stateside” is a personal film by producer-writer-director Reverge Anselmo that lacks a strong artistic compass. Partially biographical story of a rich kid’s unplanned encounter with the Marines and his even more random romance with a schizophrenic movie starlet is contrived and emotionally incomplete, and strained further by self-consciously cockeyed dialogue. Interesting casting of rising young stars and familiar vets won’t be enough to bring out an audience big enough to hold the pic in theaters; ancillary will find more recruits.
Pic is billed as being “based on a true story,” marking another personally wrought film by Anselmo, who first emerged with Sundance preem “The Outfitters.” While helmer clearly draws upon his experiences in the Marines, pic’s basic training sections so closely resemble those in Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” in setting and situation (though not in that pic’s matchlessly extreme dialogue and violence) that it loses the personal touch. The ensuing romance, true or not, is even more problematic.
Brief scene establishing Mark Deloach (Jonathan Tucker) as a Marine corporal in a VA hospital in 1984 shifts back four years to Hollywood, where unhinged thesp-singer Dori Lawrence (Rachael Leigh Cook) loses her grip during lensing of a scene. Even odder is Dori’s next bender at the Whisky, where she finishes a tune by madly babbling to the crowd.
Sudden shift to a Catholic high school in Connecticut re-intros a younger Mark, along with wealthy widower dad (Joe Mantegna). Mark and pal Danny (Daniel Franzese) raid a lovers’ hideout shared by Danny’s brother Gregory (Michael Goduti) and stuck-up but slutty g.f. Sue (Agnes Bruckner), leading to a nasty car crash with Mark behind the wheel. Managing the situation as only the rich can and faced with a lawsuit by Sue’s mother (Carrie Fisher), Mr. Deloach arranges to have Mark shipped off to the Marines in lieu of prison.
When Sue’s X-rated letters to Gregory are found by her enraged mom, Sue is sent to a psych ward, where Dori, conveniently, is her ward mate. A series of ostensibly meet-cutes between Mark and Dori is undermined by the unavoidable perception that they’re a terrible match with little chemistry. He’s stubbornly immature, and her schizophrenia makes it impossible to carry on a conversation. Worse, her dialogue sound false.
Mark’s basic training similarly plays as contrived, with Val Kilmer’s drill instructor recalling a softened facsimile of R. Lee Ermey’s version in “Full Metal Jacket.” With training in both pics set at the Marines’ Perris Island base, specific set pieces are too close not to bear comparison, with Anselmo’s version far less affecting and funny.
The deepest the Marine action gets is Kilmer, as Sgt. Skeer, disgusted at rich boys like Mark, and his desire to break the youngster. Bearing up under the tough grind, Tucker comes fully into character, with this good young actor impressively gaining muscle, sinew and a stern jawline.
And while the film obviously strives to position an upper-class boy and a Hollywood starlet as sympathetic underdog lovers, the conceit never takes hold. The surest sign the match doesn’t play well is how easy it is to agree with Dori’s counselor Mrs. Hengen (Diane Venora, in an all-too-infrequent screen appearance) when she tells Mark his presence isn’t helping Dori get well.
Tucker does remarkably well despite the pic’s potholes, while Dori is the kind of flawed role that defies casting, and Cook doesn’t fare well with so much ridiculous lingo. Bruckner, off “Blue Car,” suggests so much in a fine perf that it’s easy to wish her story had more prominence. The adults, ranging from a glowering Fisher to a fatigued Mantegna, hint at offscreen angst. In an odd and unbecoming role, Penny Marshall has an uncredited cameo as a gruff VA nurse.
Tightly budgeted production makes good use of existing locales for Mark’s family mansion and the Marine settings but misses out on some pure movie action by cutting away from Mark’s unfortunate deployment to Beirut in 1982 — summed up in a brief graphic that will go way over the heads of the pic’s intended demographic.
Smart pop music selections carry the gear.