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Reverge Anselmo's romantic drama "Stateside" strives to uphold the U.S. Marine Corps motto "Semper Fidelis" — always faithful — but leans more heavily toward "love means never having to say you're sorry," the platitudinous tagline of the 1970 sob fest "Love Story," without, for better or worse, hitting the melodramatic highs and lows of that film.

Ostensibly about the love affair between a young Marine and an actress/rock 'n' roller suffering from schizophrenia, the film is plagued by Anselmo's inability to focus on the heart of his story. The first half of the film is devoted essentially to exposition and back story.

The film opens in 1984 in a military hospital where Marine Mark Deloach (Jonathan Tucker) is recuperating from combat injuries. It quickly flashes back four years, and we are introduced to Dori Lawrence (Rachael Leigh Cook), a troubled young artist, as she melts down on a film set and while performing with her band at the Whisky. Her manager sends her home to Connecticut to get some rest.

Meanwhile, Deloach, a silver-spoon-fed high school student, participates in a prank that leads to a drunken driving arrest. His father (Joe Mantegna) cuts a deal that sends him to Parris Island, S.C., and Marine boot camp in lieu of doing jail time.

Under the watchful eye of sadist-with-a-heart-of-gold drill instructor Val Kilmer, Deloach sheds his rich-kid skin to transform physically as well emotionally. Despite Anselmo's own experience as a Marine, the sequence plays like a generic compendium of other boot camp movie dramas and only serves to delay the moment that love will have its say.

When we next encounter Dori, she is in a mental institution, conveniently rooming with Sue DuBois (Agnes Bruckner of "Blue Car"), one of the victims of Mark's DUI accident. After brief encounters between Dori and Mark, the couple are smitten. To get to this point, however, it has taken nearly half the movie, and things must move quickly to reach a conclusion. The film manages to hit all the emotional beats, but most land with a resounding thud.

Mark's devotion to Dori is touching but also blindingly selfish in his inability to recognize how ill she really is. Her therapist (Diane Venora) insists that Mark's comings and goings are not helping Dori.

The film's big dramatic question revolves around whether he can be mature enough to give up Dori for her own good.

Cook and Tucker display some chemistry in their puppy-dog canoodling, but the rapidity with which the romance plays out keeps any real sparks from flying.

When the words "based on a true story" appear on a movie screen, as they do here, they as often as not serve to trumpet the veracity of events that come across on screen as false. Rather than trying to cram in every detail for authenticity, a more adept filmmaker would take dramatic license in hand and use the "true story" as a starting point to create genuine drama.

Whether adapting from life or from fiction, "Semper Fidelis" is not necessarily a good motto for filmmakers.


MPAA rating: R, for language, some sexuality/nudity and underage drinking

Times guidelines: Sadism, disturbing emotional behavior; the nudity is of the topless stripper variety.

Rachael Leigh Cook...Dori Lawrence

Jonathan Tucker...Mark Deloach

Agnes Bruckner...Sue Dubois

Joe Mantegna...Mr. Deloach

Carrie Fisher...Mrs. Dublois

Val Kilmer...SDI Skeer

A Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Writer-director Reverge Anselmo. Producer Robert Greenhut. Executive producers Eberhard Kayser, Michele Berk. Cinematographer Adam Holender. Editor Suzy Elmiger. Costume designer Cynthia Flynt. Music Joel McNeely. Production designer Mike Shaw. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

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