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'American Hero' glides smoothly through offbeat Big Easy tale

'American Hero' glides smoothly through offbeat Big Easy tale
Stephen Dorff, right, uses his special powers to levitate Eddie Griifin in the movie, "American Hero." (Schreen Media Films)

"American Hero" may seem like an awfully generic title, but it suits this shaggy dog fable set in a post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans just fine. Writer-director Nick Love brings an enticingly quirky sensibility to the kaleidoscopic action, infusing his offbeat tale with raucous charm and a big, sloppy heart.

Stephen Dorff stars as Melvin, a hard-partying, unmade bed of a guy with mysterious telekinetic powers and little idea how to use them beyond the occasional grand-scale party trick. Sometimes he may "chase down the guys the cops don't have time to deal with." But right now, he's more concerned with persuading his bitter ex-wife (Keena Ferguson) to let him spend time with their young son, Rex (Jonathan Billions). It's an uphill climb.

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However, after Melvin has a brush with death, he vows to give up booze, drugs and women and devote himself to using his powers — he can stop bullets with his hands and send cars flying through the air — to rid his downscale neighborhood of a violent drug gang. But can the rash and rudderless Melvin stick to his plan long enough to make a difference?

English filmmaker Love does a fine job evoking the social and cultural vibe of the Big Easy and its environs. He also enjoyably uses documentary-style testimonials from Melvin's devoted friends and supporters, inspired editing and a slew of nifty visual effects.

But it's the perhaps underappreciated Dorff, who tears into his role with gusto, and comedian Eddie Griffin, hilarious as Melvin's potty-mouthed, disabled war veteran pal, Lucille (yes, that's right) who steal the show with their vital, spirited turns. The oddly synced characters, whom one of the heavies in the film snarkily dubs Black Man and Robin, deserve another film together. Or at least the actors who play them do.

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"American Hero"

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.

Playing: AMC Burbank Town Center 8. Also on VOD.

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