Though set in the present, Allan Mindel’s “Milwaukee, Minnesota” has a distinctly ’70s vibe, with its raft of tweed coats, fur collars and deep-baked earth tones. It’s a fantastic-looking picture (courtesy of d.p. Bernd Heinl, production designer Dina Goldman and costumer Michael Wilkinson) in search of a decent script. Much further fest play for Slamdance’s closing night attraction seems unlikely, but pic’s classy look and assortment of appealing performers will ensure some ancillary exposure.
Albert (Troy Garity), a champion Wisconsin ice-fisherman, lives in a Milwaukee suburb with his overprotective mother (Debra Monk) and works part-time for a kindly local shopkeeper (Bruce Dern), who’s like the father Albert never knew. Albert’s a bit slow, making him prime pickings for an assortment of hustlers and con-artists who somehow seem to roll into town simultaneously.
Too conveniently, Albert’s mom gets flattened in a freak car accident, leaving Albert all alone in the world and even easier prey to the likes of Jerry (Randy Quaid) — who claims to be Albert’s father — and the brother-sister team of Stan (Hank Harris) and Tuey (Alison Folland), who position themselves as Albert’s only true friends in the world. But everybody has one thing in common: they want a piece of Albert’s ice-fishing winnings.
R.D. Murphy’s script never advances past that none-too-compelling setup; despite some agreeably quirky odds and ends and some potentially rich characters, it’s satisfied to be a series of monkeyshines in which Albert tries to stay one step ahead of the opportunists — a task certainly easy enough for the audience.
Pic keeps leaning on caper elements, to the detriment of the more personal, character-oriented bits, which is why it’s all the more impressive that Garity and Folland manage to work out such thoughtful, compelling performances beneath the movie’s hectic surface. Garity, with his deliberate drawl and puppy-dog gaze, is particularly adept at playing behind-the-curve (just as he does in Frank Pierson’s “Soldier’s Girl”), while Folland has a sullen, Martha Plimpton-like quality that suits her character well. Her Tuey is running away from something too terrible to acknowledge, and there’s a self-consciousness to her performance that’s just right for that. Had the pic’s priorities been different, the chemistry between the two might have infected the rest of the film, but it never quite does.
In roles that are too brief, Dern gives his all, and Quaid, who seems to have lathered in oil before stepping onscreen, boosts matters considerably whenever he’s around. Warhol vet Holly Woodlawn adds to the nostalgia value in a brief cameo. Pic’s title derives from the way in which one of the character’s can never remember which state Milwaukee in actually in.