While "Tennessee" scribe Russell Schaumberg never met a cliche he didn't like, helmer Aaron Woodley tries to inject authenticity into script's prefab structure, helped by Adam Rothenberg's strong perf

A deglamorized Mariah Carey, unexceptional in her cinematic followup to the disastrous “Glitter,” hitches her wagon to a road movie about two brothers racing cross-country to find a bone-marrow match to save the younger sibling from leukemia. While “Tennessee” scribe Russell Schaumberg never met a cliche he didn’t like, helmer Aaron Woodley (“Rhinoceros Eyes”) tries to inject authenticity into script’s prefab structure, helped by Adam Rothenberg’s strong perf as a bitter alcoholic older brother. But ultimately, nothing can save this pic from the warm fuzzies. Theatrical prospects look weak, though curiosity over Carey could propel the pic in ancillary.

A teenage Carter (Rothenberg) bundles his mother and little brother into their car after knocking out his alcoholic, abusive father (Bill Sage), leaving behind his g.f. and a chance at a career in football.

When he next appears, Carter (still played by Rothenberg) is a cynical, hard-drinking cab driver with no ambition and less hope. His younger brother Ellis (Ethan Peck, Gregory’s grandson), who obsessively photographs mountaintops, falls ill with leukemia and Carter reluctantly agrees to take him back to Tennessee in the hopes their detested dad may prove a bone-marrow match.

Their car breaks down, and the siblings are picked up by waitress Carey, herself in an abusive marriage to a state trooper (Lance Reddick, a strong presence in an overly simplistic role). Soon the three are tooling merrily along the road to Nashville to fulfill Carey’s modest dreams of making it as a singer-songwriter (gulp). Carey’s homicidal cop husband, though, is hot on their trail.

Up to this juncture “Tennessee,” though painfully predictable, coasts on the strength of its tensely contained thesping and quietly atmospheric helming. Once the script hits meaningful wrapup mode, however, improbabilities pile up with dizzying speed.

Many picturesque vistas, a mild Carey number and a few illness-induced swoons later, the moral scales are gently and miraculously balanced and the actors try desperately not to get drowned in the sentimental backwash.

Tech credits are consistently pro.

Tennessee

Production

A Lee Daniels Entertainment production in association with Smokewood Entertainment. Produced by Daniels. Executive producers, Sarah Siegel-Magness, Gary Magness, Lisa Cortes, Dave Robinson, Damon Dash, Jane Kosek, Tom Heller. Co-executive producers, Brad Kaplan, Chris Ridenhour. Directed by Aaron Woodley. Screenplay, Russell Schaumburg.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), David Greene; editor, Steve Edwards; music, Mario Grigorov; production designer, Aidan Leroux; costume designer, Deborah Everton; sound (Dolby Digital), Benjamin Cheah, Matthew Nicolay; casting, Billy Hopkins, Suzanne Crowley. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Discovery), April 27, 2008. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Adam Rothenberg, Ethan Peck, Mariah Carey, Lance Reddick, Bill Sage.

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