Trimark has its work cut out for it in pushing this late-summer clunker, which hits wrong notes from the start and only gets more sour as it goes along. Fans pulled in by a sharp cast will be displeased by how poorly their faves fare. And anyone looking for a witty or insightful chronicle of growing up in the early ’60s will be more than disappointed. Most auds will simply skip “Parts” altogether.
Title comes from 14-year-old protagonist Sam Callahan (Bug Hall) and his desire to be a “writer of literature” — more specifically, one who doesn’t stint on the good stuff. Screenplay, adapted by Tim Sandlin from the first of his growing-up-in-the-’60s trilogy of novels, has plenty of naughty bits, all right, but they are presented in such a detached, sterile and unambitious manner, they might as well be commands to duck and cover.
Story is set in 1963, when Sam and his singularly bad-behavin’ mom, Lydia (Jennifer Jason Leigh), are exiled from South Carolina to faraway Wyoming. This gives helmer Tamra Davis a chance to toss in the Kennedy assassination, bad haircuts and other period symbols, but pic never reads as if it’s really the ’60s; languid body language and frank, casually profane dialogue all convey a ’90s feel.
Conflict, in a nutshell, has sexually naive but good-natured Sam falling in love with his new schoolmate, a pretty girl called Maurey (Mischa Barton). She doesn’t love him back, exactly, but his slatternly mom encourages them to experiment, with predictable results. Her subsequent visit to the local abortion clinic — presumably a challenge to find in 1963 Wyoming — is further complicated by a surprise encounter with her Betty Crocker-like mom (Peggy Lipton, in a dark Jackie Kennedy do). Meanwhile, Lydia has hooked up with Hank (Michael Greyeyes), seemingly the only Indian in town, thus putting at risk the trust fund her Southern-fried dad (R. Lee Ermey, doing a spot-on Broderick Crawford) cruelly dangles before her.
Despite her presence as co-producer, pic does absolutely nothing for Leigh, who can manage this kind of bottle-blond part in her sleep, and does. But the real somnambulism comes from Davis, a veteran helmer who here applies a shockingly feeble hand. In a setting we’re told is rife with Cold War authoritarianism, every problem — whether it’s a cafeteria argument, the death of JFK or a woman tearing off her clothes on a muddy rodeo field — is given exactly the same weight. The comedy is equally flat.
Pic is further hampered by voiceovers from the young protag that simply reiterate what’s onscreen. Hall, memorable as Alfalfa in the “Little Rascals” update, is likable enough, and so is the English-born Barton, although her struggles with rural Americana appear to have left her with an inexpressive voice.
Rest of cast is serviceable, with Saskatchewan providing an attractive backdrop for their forgettable antics. Overall, “Parts” is plagued by a low-budget look, especially in woefully under-imagined fantasy segs that find Drew Barrymore showing up as Sam’s mindless ideal. Stewart Copeland’s OK music mixes well with retreads of expected, if sometimes anachronistic, ’60s ditties.