This ode to theater does make one yearn to attend such a production -- if only as an alternative to watching the film. "Bigger Than the Sky" establishes a melancholy tone, but doesn't connect either in concept or execution. In theater, we're told, "normal rules do not apply," but some do, and this poser will soon be chased off the stage.

In an unintended way, this peculiar ode to community theater does make one yearn to attend such a production — if only as an alternative to watching the film. “Bigger Than the Sky” establishes a melancholy tone, but doesn’t connect either in concept — a sad-sack who staggers into a production of “Cyrano de Bergerac” — or execution. In theater, we’re told, “normal rules do not apply,” but some invariably do, and this unconvincing poser will soon be chased off the stage.

Rodney Vaccaro’s screenplay seizes upon a familiar theme — an Everyman whose life is shaken up by immersion in a crazy new world. Still, in the hands of former “Dynasty” actor Al Corley, making his directing debut, the result proves so awkward and improbable as to leave none of the fuzzy afterglow that was clearly intended.

A key problem involves Marcus Thomas, who is either playing his dullard of a character Peter Rooker badly or a bit too well — to the point where a casual viewer might envision Rooker being cast as Lenny in “Of Mice and Men,” but surely not the swashbuckling Cyrano.

Dumped by his girlfriend and bored with his go-nowhere job, Peter somewhat impulsively tries out for Edmond Rostand’s classic play at his friendly neighborhood theater in Oregon. Despite his dismal audition, the slightly avant-garde director, Edwina (Clare Higgins) — whose commitment to the story’s “inner truth” includes shearing the title character’s celebrated snout — decides to cast Peter in the lead.

Overwhelmed at first, Peter slowly begins taking to these wacky theater folk, from Michael, the eccentric playing Christian (John Corbett); to Grace (Amy Smart), the free-spirited beauty cast as Roxanne; to the company’s dying patriarch, Kippy (Allan Corduner). With Michael and Grace, Peter forms what’s not quite delineated enough to qualify as a love triangle — maybe more like a love rhombus.

Peter’s smarmy boss (“Ally McBeal’s” Greg Germann) doesn’t understand his underling’s need to act, but soon he’s carousing with Michael at all hours and snoozing at his desk.

Despite coaching, Peter’s performance doesn’t seem to be improving, and his ineptitude eventually begins to test Edwina’s leap of faith.

The film tries to have some fun with inside jokes, riffing on elements of “Cyrano” and casting Patty Duke in a dual role as never-seen-together twins, which is more believable than her long-ago stint as identical cousins. That allows for a familial pairing with son Sean Astin as a pompous actor feuding with Michael. As perilous tasks go, keeping Frodo alive was doubtless easier.

Vaccaro describes the film as a comedy in the production notes, but you’d have to read them twice to believe it. For while Corbett brings a certain roguish charm to his character, Thomas’ perpetual frowny-face portrayal of Peter proves so lifeless the thought of him emerging triumphant is unimaginable, making the basic premise feel more cruel than whimsical.

Somehow, though, the half-dozen producers credited managed to get the film made — no doubt embracing the underlying message about daring to dream, taking risks and living to the fullest.

These are noble ideals to be sure, but “Bigger Than the Sky” can’t bring them to fruition. Or, as Cyrano might say, it simply lacks panache.

Bigger Than The Sky

Production

An MGM release of a Neverland Films production in association with Coquette Prods. Produced by David Arquette, Steven Siebert, Mark Burton, Al Corley, Bart Rosenblatt, Eugene Musso. Executive producer, Jonathan Dana. Co-producer, Craig M. Borden. Directed by Al Corley. Screenplay, Rodney Vaccaro.

Crew

Camera (FotoKem color), Carl Nilsson; editor, Axel Hubert; music, Rob Cairns; music supervisor, Barklie K. Griggs; production designer, Stephen Lineweaver; art director, Mark Haack; set decorator, Teresa J. Tamiyasu; costume designer, Julia Caston; sound (Dolby), Matthew Nicolay; supervising sound editor, Richard E. Yawn; visual effects supervisor, Chris Ervin; associate producer/assistant director, Kim Olsen; stunt coordinator, Jerry Buxbaum; casting, Billy Hopkins, Suzanne Smith, Kerry Barden. Reviewed at MGM screening room, Los Angeles, Feb. 16, 2005. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 106 MIN.

With

Peter Rooker - Marcus Thomas Michael Degan - John Corbett Grace Hargrove - Amy Smart Ken Zorbell - Sean Astin Edwina - Clare Higgins Mrs. Keene/Earline - Patty Duke Kippy - Allan Corduner Roger - Greg Germann

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