Daltry Calhoun

on September 23, 2005 by Mark Keizer
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To call the Johnny Knoxville dramedy "Daltry Calhoun" a bad movie isn't entirely accurate. It's more like an unsuccessful movie. It means well and has mild charms, but writer/director Katrina Holden Bronson can't steer the performers in the same direction, nor can she whittle down the overplotted story to its essence. Should an expert in the field, like James L. Brooks or Cameron Crowe, decide to rewrite it, recast it and direct it, the story may fulfill its potential. Since that prospect is unlikely, the film is better left off your to-do list.

Daltry Calhoun (Johnnie Knoxville) is the fast-talking president of Calhoun Industries, a sod-growing business that provides locally grown grass for the country's best golf courses. Daltry's cornpone TV commercials run day and night, making him the most popular resident of rural Ducksville, Tenn. But Calhoun has a past -- one that is about to catch up with him. Fourteen years earlier, he abandoned his girlfriend May (Elizabeth Banks) and baby daughter, June. Now, May is terminally ill and wants the teenaged June (Sophie Traub) to know who her father is.

That alone is plenty for one movie to handle, but Bronson is just getting started. Only Daltry and his business intimates know that Calhoun Industries is on the financial ropes because problems have developed with its grass-producing soil. Addressing the issue, Daltry imports Australia sod expert Frankie (Kick Gurry), who becomes the target of June's blossoming sexuality. But wait, there's more. June constantly spouts dramatically inert gibberish about auditioning for Julliard, even though we only see her play harmonica and she can't read music. She also begins tutoring Daltry's illiterate groundskeeper, Doyle (David Koechner), while bonding with widowed shopkeeper Flora (Juliette Lewis), who has a crush on Daltry.

Tonally, Bronson is all over the place, with laughs and tears refusing to gel and jokes landing with a thud. There's enough plot for three movies, so no character or storyline takes root and the film loses track of what we're really supposed to care about: a man reuniting with his estranged daughter. Everything, even May's death, is a loose thread in search of a sweater and the actors are left to drift.

With his work in "Grand Theft Parson," "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Daltry Calhoun", Knoxville definitely likes his paychecks cut from Southern banks. But these movies aren't very good and here the role asks more of him than he can deliver. Juliette Lewis best understands whatever Bronson is going for. Nervously twirling her hair, the excitable, sincere Flora is eager to please and desperate to be wanted. As June, Canadian Sophie Traub is great -- the best thing in the movie -- while Koechner is stuck between doing Lenny from "Of Mice and Men" and a sketch from "Hee-Haw."

The small-town Tennessee locations are such a throwback that when June mentions modern rap stars, the effect is almost jarring. The song score is persistent and obvious, from "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" to "The Things We Do for Love." The film looks as if it were edited to remove scenes and parts of scenes, which may explain the holes in character and story. Awkward narration by June adds to the disjointed feel. The oddest name on the one-sheet is undoubtedly executive producer Quentin Tarantino, who has been a mentor to Bronson since she made the 2001 short "Righteous Indignation." Otherwise, this low-key film is not meant to have the style or hip and flip violence associated with Tarantino. Starring Johnny Knoxville, Juliette Lewis and Sophie Traub. Directed and written by Katrina Holden Bronson. Produced by Danielle Renfrew. A Miramax release. Comedy/Drama. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug material and language. Running time: 93 min

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