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Provinces of Night

Longer, lazier and more stifling than a hot summer afternoon.

With: Val Kilmer, Kris Kristofferson, Hilary Duff, Reece Thompson, Dwight Yoakam, Frances Conroy, W. Earl Brown, Sheila Kelley, Hilarie Burton, Barry Corbin.

Adapted from the novel by William Gay, “Provinces of Night” is a tale of male sin and redemption across three generations of a Southern family. What may have been seductive on the page, however, onscreen feels longer, lazier and more stifling than a hot summer afternoon. Despite a few marquee names (Kris Kristofferson, Val Kilmer, Hilary Duff), the pic offers little to recommend and will surely have an uphill battle finding theatrical distribution.

One stormy night some 40 years ago, a man named E.F. Bloodworth (Kristofferson) committed a horrible, violent act (neither shown nor explained, only suggested, confusingly, through grainy flash cuts), then left his wife (Frances Conroy) alone to raise their three young boys in Tennessee.

Now grown, the Bloodworth sons are tied down by their emotional baggage: Eldest son Brady (W. Earl Brown, who also penned the script) still lives with Mama and suffers extreme paranoia; middle child Boyd (Dwight Yoakam) is an uncommunicative drifter and possibly abusive father to his son Fleming (Reece Thompson); and third son Warren (Val Kilmer), a bar owner, goes through women like an alcoholic runs through whiskey. When E.F. sends a message that he’s coming home, the news awakens the brothers’ long-suppressed rage and resentment.

Only Fleming, an aspiring writer, has any chance of breaking the cycle of violence and retribution. The setup itself is fairly promising: The Bloodworths, in their way, are as damaged and dysfunctional as anything Flannery O’Connor might have conceived. But as a whole, the film never gets off the ground. Stymied by long, expository passages of dialogue, it lacks the energy and momentum that would have helped immeasurably to move the story forward.

While the Bloodworth brothers, particularly Kilmer’s Warren, are credibly portrayed, young Thompson fares less well: His stagy line readings, delivered in wobbly dialect, leave you feeling that he’s walked in from another movie. A subplot involving Duff as the girl who may offer Fleming a chance to escape the curses of his family feels forced and superficial, and few of the characters invite any real emotional investment. Additionally, some sequences seem positively over the top, one of which includes a tornado that looks as if it were extracted from the prologue of “The Wizard of Oz.”

That said, it’s great to see Kristofferson back in the saddle, though his part as the fatalistic, taciturn patriarch is far more abbreviated than one might have wished. The sight of him strumming his guitar is one of the pic’s bright spots, as is a much-too-brief cameo by the inimitable Barry Corbin as a bartender with an itchy trigger finger.

Provinces of Night

Production: A Dax production in association with Buffalo Bulldog Films. Produced by Shane Dax Taylor, W. Earl Brown, Kenneth Burke. Executive producer, Corky Taylor. Directed by Shane Dax Taylor. Screenplay, W. Earl Brown, based on the novel by William Gay.

Crew: Camera (color), Tim Orr; editor, Neguine Sananan; production designer, Brian Stultz; art director, Kevin Hardison; costume designer, Leigh Leverett; sound, Carl Rudisill; assistant director, John Lind; casting, Venus Kanani, Mary Vernieu. Reviewed at Santa Barbara Film Festival (World Premiere), Feb. 6, 2010. Running time: 110 MIN.

With: With: Val Kilmer, Kris Kristofferson, Hilary Duff, Reece Thompson, Dwight Yoakam, Frances Conroy, W. Earl Brown, Sheila Kelley, Hilarie Burton, Barry Corbin.

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