Steven Spielberg

No offense to either of them, but “Georgia Rule” suggests an Ingmar Bergman script as directed by Jerry Lewis. The subject matter is grim, the relationships are gnarled, the worldview is bleak, and, at any given moment, you suspect someone’s going to be hit with a pie.

No offense to either of them, but “Georgia Rule” suggests an Ingmar Bergman script as directed by Jerry Lewis. The subject matter is grim, the relationships are gnarled, the worldview is bleak, and, at any given moment, you suspect someone’s going to be hit with a pie. The presence of Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan and Felicity Huffman will target a wide demographic, but once word gets out about this misshapen Garry Marshall dramedy, it should be wending its way to a lonely afterlife on DVD.

Heralded for months by Lohan’s alleged, much-publicized misbehavior during the shoot, “Georgia Rule” finds the young star playing a character whose antics are her own calling card. Rachel, having driven her mother Lilly (Huffman) to exasperation, is deposited with her grandmother Georgia (Fonda) for the summer. Predictably, an education will be had, but exactly for and from whom is never entirely clear.

There’s no love lost among the three women. Rachel actively antagonizes Lilly, and Lilly clearly has issues with her mother — and it’s hard not to share them: Georgia, who justifies her often capricious edicts with the titular “Georgia rule!,” is a brittle woman whom Fonda imbues with all the warmth of a pit viper. What’s lacking in Georgia — or Fonda — is a sense of authority, something to make all the imperiousness believable. But very little about Georgia, Lilly or Rachel is believable, including the idea that they’re related.

And while director Marshall makes things awkward, it’s not the kind of awkward that tells the viewer much about the histories or temperaments of his characters. Between Mark Andrus’ disjointed script and the general poverty of direction, there’s little to keep the film from being more than a long series of emotional non sequiturs.

If this were some daffy, cross-generational comedy, the lack of plausibility wouldn’t seem so off-putting — no, make that offensive. But, Rachel has serious problems: One of the first things she does upon arriving in her grandma’s Idaho town is perform oral sex on local Mormon boy Harlan (Garrett Hedlund), totally confusing him (and us). She regularly hits on the nobly restrained veterinarian (Dermot Mulroney). And she claims to have been sexually assaulted by her stepfather (Cary Elwes), which explains her precocious sexuality and need for real affection.

But it simply disqualifies the film as a comedy of any kind, making Marshall’s juxtaposition of smalltown quaintness and Lohan’s post-adolescent jiggle considerably more than distasteful. The film’s lampooning of Mormons (Harlan’s girlfriend has her friends spy on Rachel, which they do with vigor and insults) is just one more gratuitous affront.

Huffman goes through the film like a crash victim, which, considering all that her character endures, isn’t the worst technical choice. Lohan is fine, as usual, even if her character isn’t written particularly well. Fonda, though, is hard to watch, her apparent discomfort as a performer inseparable from Georgia’s discomfort with motherhood, grand or otherwise.

Marshall doesn’t do much to help her, but that problem is epidemic: The cinematography of Karl Walter Lindenlaub, whose fine work can be seen in the current “Black Book,” looks washed out. Music cues have the subtlety of alarm clocks. Production values are subpar.

Georgia Rule

Production

A Universal release of a James G. Robinson presentation of a Morgan Creek production. Produced by James G. Robinson, David Robinson. Executive producers, Guy McElwaine, Michael Besman, Kevin Reidy. Co-producer, Bonnie Timmermann. Directed by Garry Marshall. Screenplay, Mark Andrus.

Crew

Camera (color), Karl Walter Lindenlaub; editors, Bruce Green, Tara Timpone; music, John Debney; music supervisor, Dawn Soler; production designer, Albert Brenner; art director, Norman Newberry; set designers, Mike Stassi, Bruce West; set decorator, Garrett Lewis; costume designer, Gary Jones; makeup, Lynn Barber; sound (Dolby/SDDS/DTS), Thomas Causey; supervising sound editors, Todd Toon, Donald J. Malouf; special effects coordinator, Larz Anderson; visual effects, Illusion Arts, Bill Taylor; stunt coordinators, Charlie Brewer, Scott Wilder; assistant director, Thomas Harper; second unit director, Scott Marshall; casting, Pam Dixon Mickelson. MPAA Rating: R. Reviewed at Mann Chinese 6, Hollywood, May 7, 2007. Running time: 113 MIN.

With

Georgia - Jane Fonda Rachel - Lindsay Lohan Lilly - Felicity Huffman Simon - Dermot Mulroney Arnold - Cary Elwes Harlan - Garrett Hedlund Izzy - Hector Elizondo

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