Box Of Moonlight

on July 25, 1997 by Melissa Morrison
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Another mismatched-buddy movie, this Lemon Sky production succeeds in sustaining a loopy tone just this side of ominous. It lacks, however, the clarity of the moment where the hero--in this case, straitlaced Al Fountain (John Turturro)--gives himself over to the free spirit with whom he is thrown--in this case, Kid (Sam Rockwell, who manages a combination of sweetness and imbalance), a kind of demented Davy Crockett. The result is similar to a carnival ride that doesn't have a final, culminating thrill: fun, but ultimately unsatisfying.
Al is the kind of guy whose life is so ordered there's no life left in it. He's a family man and electrical engineer, but something is lacking; when the out-of-town job he's overseeing is suddenly canceled, he tells his wife nothing and instead goes on the road. He runs into Kid, who lives "off the grid" in one of the film's most astonishing visual elements: a trailer-trash estate. Predictably, Kid chafes on Al but the two ultimately connect, and Al learns to loosen up.
There's an edge to this story. In his wanderings, Al meets a variety of all-American weirdos, including a Jesus freak, a wanton waitress and a failed phone sex operator; their quirks are amusing but also unsettling. It's nice to see a film that takes a familiar setup and then applies it to something audience members actually identify ith--here, a sense of living within the boundaries while chaos and violence creep ever closer.
As honest and honorable as writer/director Tom DiCillo's intentions are, however, the crucial crux where Al lets loose (and, of course, is the better man for it) isn't adequately set up. For example, when the film has shown how loving and together his wife is, why does Al's transformation include sleeping with the ex-phone-sex operator? The bond between Al and Kid is touchingly clear, but it takes more than that to make a buddy pic gel. Starring John Turturro and Sam Rockwell. Directed and written by Tom DiCillo. Produced by Markus Viscidi and Thomas A. Bliss. A Trimark release. Comedy/drama. Rated R for language and some nudity. Running time: 107 minutes. Screened at the 1995 Venice fest.
Tags: Tom DiCillo, John Turturro, Sam Rockwell, buddy comedy
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