Desert Blue Movie Review

Would you believe me if I told you someone has made a movie about teenagers that doesn't revolve around the sex lives of unrealistically urbane high school juniors?

I don't even remember the last time I saw a juvie movie like "Desert Blue," a very rural comedy featuring a ensemble cast of talented rising stars (as opposed to the WB variety) playing teenagers who (gasp!) act like teenagers.

They're bored and discontented. They hang out and drink beer for the sake of drinking beer. They toy with intellectualism, peppering their attempts at depth with the word "dude." They neck a lot because unlike those urbane movie teens, that's what most teenagers do far more often than they have sex.

Like a studio teenager movie, "Desert Blue" is a little silly, but in an off-the-wall way only an indie could get away with. The story turns on a quarantine imposed in Baxter, California, population 87, after a tanker truck spills possibly toxic soda pop. But that admittedly absurd plot device is little more than a tongue-in-cheek jumping off point for 27-year-old writer-director Morgan J. Freeman, whose "Hurricane Streets" was a 1997 Sundance fave.

The movie arrives in this virtually abandon mining town of dirt roads and sagebrush horizons on the heels of Skye (Kate Hudson), a Hollywood starlet with her own TV show. She gets trapped by the quarantine while reluctantly spending quality time with her annoyingly unsophisticated dad (John Heard), a scruffy professor who teaches a course called Pop Culture and the Roadside Attraction. The stop in Baxter was his idea -- it has the world's largest ice cream cone.

But "Desert Blue" is smarter than to go overboard with pampered Skye fretting missed auditions and the lack of cell phone coverage. There is a little bit of that, but Skye soon falls in with the disaffected, disenchanted and terminally glazed with boredom local kids, whose empty-berg options lead to nights of non-revelry that frequently begin with someone saying "You guys wanna party at the aqueduct tonight?" or "It's Pete! He's got the potato cannon!"

Largely character driven -- although the picture toys with a conspiracy subplot involving the soda spill and the FBI -- "Desert Blue's" modest success is thanks to the great cast of young talent.

Hudson (currently most famous for being Goldie Hawn's daughter) smartly resists the temptation to take her spoiled actress character over the top, giving the down-to-earth part of Skye the opportunity to find out how much she has in common with Baxter's trapped youth.

Reigning indie princess Christina Ricci is the town rebel -- the sheriff's morbid daughter with raccoon eyeliner and a penchant for pipe bombs. Casey Affleck is the local hero of the all-terrain-vehicle racing circuit who is determined to circumvent the FBI's quarantine road block. Brendon Sexton III (who starred in "Hurricane Streets") plays the son of a failed Baxter businessman who in the wake if his dad's death is pursuing his ironic dream of building Baxter a water park.

"Desert Blue" is not genius, but for the right, young audience it will have a definite resonance. But without any teen flick outrageousness or upstart network divas in the cast to draw legions of lowest-common-denominator teens like sheep, I don't know how it's going to find an audience. Especially since its being booked mostly in big city arthouse venues, where life in a town of 87 people isn't likely to ring any bells with moviegoers.


Desert Blue Rating

" OK "

Rating: Unrated, 1999


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