A middling teen comedy/coming-of-ager helmed by John Stockwell (“Blue Crush,” “Turistas”) from a messy script by former TV actress Michelle Morgan, “Middle of Nowhere” traverses familiar territory. Although there’s a formulaic feel to this tale of a smart-aleck rich kid rebelling against his family and finding friendship with a strong-willed young woman from a different social class, the cast of young up-and-comers and the conceit of real-life mother and daughter Susan Sarandon and Eva Amurri playing same could provide traction for niche arthouse in some markets. Still, prospects seem brighter in ancillary.
Tenderhearted troublemaker Dorian (Anton Yelchin in motormouth mode) is exiled by his wealthy family to the home of a strict uncle in the middle of nowhere, Louisiana. Told to toe the line or he’ll be shipped off to military academy, he’s forced into a minimum-wage job at the local water park.
There, he meets slightly older Grace (Amurri), who’s desperate to earn money for college. When Dorian decides to deal weed to the rich kids, he needs wheels for his deliveries and ultimately persuades Grace (whom he has the hots for) to be his driver in return for a big payoff.
Grace can’t get a loan because her irresponsible widowed mother Rhonda (Sarandon, not well used) has accumulated a massive debt on a credit card taken out in Grace’s name. Unconcerned about Grace’s ambitions, Rhonda displays a decided preference for willowy younger daughter Taylor (looker Willa Holland), whom she wants to turn into a model.
Instead of paying attention to character development or plot logic, the slapdash, sitcom-y script keeps tossing more and more things into the mix, including revelations about both Dorian’s and Grace’s families.
On the plus side, Stockwell’s direction brings out the mixed feelings of rivalry and solidarity shared by the siblings, and the social-status gap between townies like Grace and her worldly rich-boy fling, Ben (Justin Chatwin).
Better as a bad girl (“Saved!”) or a sophisticate (“The Education of Charlie Banks”), Amurri’s prim Grace comes off as surprisingly naive and bland. Moreover, the mature-looking 23-year-old isn’t convincing as 19, especially with Stockwell’s camera frequently, and tackily, focused on her bust. Bright lensing by Byron Shah looks best in the cool, blue outdoors of the water park. The rest of the tech package is nothing special.