Playing a 13-year-old, pistol-packing smart aleck who grows up quick while thumbing her way West from Nebraska, Chloe Grace Moretz invests far more emotion in “Hick” than the film deserves. This white-trash picaresque, set to classic tunes by the likes of Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, rarely if ever transcends its crude formula to command one’s interest. Moreover, the movie hurls its young heroine into a variety of abusive situations, resulting in a pic that’s unpleasant when it isn’t simply boring. Alec Baldwin’s late-reel cameo turn as a motel-crashing father figure seems insufficient to help “Hick” reach big-city theaters.
Co-scripted by Andrea Portes from her like-titled novel, “Hick” opens on the 13th birthday of foul-mouthed Luli (Moretz), whose uncle gives her a 45-caliber Smith & Wesson, and with it some protection as she hits the road to flee her alcoholic parents (including a blond-wigged Juliette Lewis). Dreaming of stardom while drawing implausibly brilliant works in colored pencil, the kid hitches a ride from Stetson-sporting Eddie Kreezer (Eddie Redmayne), who comes on like a cowboy charmer but eventually reveals himself to be a psychopath at best.
On the road, the runaway’s vocabulary runs the gamut from “ergo” to “skank,” but that’s hardly the height of her precocity. Hooking up with big-sisterly Glenda (Blake Lively), Luli enjoys her first snort of cocaine, inspiring a succession of slurred images taken from the pair’s speeding car — and a brief respite from the pic’s gratingly twangy dialogue.
Working with d.p. Frank Godwin, director Derick Martini (“Lymelife”) knows how to fill the widescreen frame, although the movie remains largely empty nonetheless. “Hick” borrows more from the films of Martin Scorsese than one could begin to calculate, but it regularly mistakes caricature for characterization, and its combination of vintage pop music and extreme violence feels merely gratuitous. A particularly nasty scene set to Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams” seems to victimize young Luli as much as any of the movie’s perverted males do.
Amazingly, Moretz manages to acquit herself with grace and humor, even in feebly imagined moments of Luli twirling her pistol and spouting old-movie dialogue in front of a mirror. Supporting actors, from Lewis and Lively to Baldwin, appear as little more than garishly costumed props, while tech credits are mature enough to make the screenplay seem even more childish by comparison.