Sissy Spacek faces down murderous drug dealers and races through the cornfields to protect her grandson in a heartstring-tugger about the importance of family.

In their debut outing, helmer-scribes Perry Moore and Hunter Hill fall victim to the fairy-tale fallacy: the belief that if you capture a star, he or she can spin cliche hay into cinematic gold. In “Lake City,” Sissy Spacek faces down murderous drug dealers and races through the cornfields to protect her grandson in a Southern heartstring-tugger about the importance of family. Thesps — including Dave Matthews (sans band), Drea de Matteo, Keith Carradine and Jane Fonda-offspring Troy Garity — set off enough emotional tripwires to stave off bathos, but it’s a near thing. Theatrical chances look dim.

The filmmakers chose their icon well. Through “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “The River,” etc., Spacek’s diminutive toughness and bone-deep commitment emerge as part of an untamed rural landscape, be it hillbilly Appalachia or the flood-dampened South.

But, Moore and Hill’s script plunges Spacek in a mawkish stew of banality and improbability composed of bits and pieces of earlier roles. She plays Maggie, a steadfast farmwoman resisting all offers to sell out to developers, having found serenity living alone on her ancestral Virginia acres.

Maggie’s peace is shattered by the arrival of prodigal son Billy (Garity), dragging behind him a whole urban action-film load of complications. First, there is Billy’s own recently discovered son Clayton (Colin Ford), dumped on him by Clayton’s mother Hope (Drea de Matteo), who took off with a fortune in cocaine. Now Billy is on the run from a drug dealer (Matthews) who thinks he knows Hope’s whereabouts.

Maggie struggles to set things right with a mix of self-sacrifice, chutzpah and a little help from her friends (including laid-back would-be suitor Keith Carradine and Rebecca Romijn as a sexy cop with a weakness for Billy). Fragmented flashbacks and pregnant silences signal a past tragedy that still separates Maggie from Billy.

Tech credits tend to work against the script’s pure treacle, lenser Robert Gantz casting a fine golden glow over the lush Virginia terrain and onto Spacek’s face.

Lake City

Production

A Sixty-Six Prods. presentation of a Sixty-Six production. Produced by Allison Sarofim, Donna L. Bascom, Mike S. Ryan. Executive producers, Mark Johnson, Sally Pope Weiman Seid. Directed, written by Perry Moore, Hunter Hill.

Crew

Camera (Super 16mm-to-35mm, widescreen), Robert Gantz; editor, Jeffrey Wolf; music, Aaron Zigman; production designer, David Crank; costume designer, Susan Antonelli; sound (Dolby Digital), Anton Gold, Eric Offin; casting, Lisa Mae Fincannon. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Encounters), May 2, 2008. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Sissy Spacek, Troy Garity, Rebecca Romijn, David Matthews, Keith Carradine, Colin Ford, Drea de Matteo.

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