"Angels in Stardust" is a creaky coming-of-age fantasy-drama whose luminous lead actress, A.J. Michalka ("Grace Unplugged"), has hopefully seen the last of this kind of ungainly corn pone.
Writer-director William Robert Carey may channel bits from such classics as "The Purple Rose of Cairo" and "The Last Picture Show" to tell this Dust Bowl tale of teen dreams, trailer trash, cowboys and, yes, Indians (or as the film's hugely retrograde approach to Native Americans would have it, "Injuns"). But when it comes to finesse or originality the first-time filmmaker falls desperately short, relying on hoary clichés; dreadful, chicken-fried dialogue; and an often cracked moral compass.
The clunkily told story finds high-schooler and budding writer Vallie Sue (Michalka) poised to exit her dumpy little Sooner State town for what passes for Oz around there: Oklahoma City, where a scholarship supposedly awaits. Meanwhile, Vallie Sue's trampy, neglectful single mom, Tammy (Alicia Silverstone, in not her finest hour), would rather her daughter follow in her own stellar footsteps — that is, find a man and get knocked up, pronto.
But the teenager, inspired by a handsome movie cowboy (Billy Burke) who pops off an abandoned drive-in theater screen now and then to chitty-chat (a device that feels more jammed in than organic), knows she has bigger catfish to fry, even if it means leaving behind her needy, pint-sized half-brother Pleasant (Adam Taylor, not yet camera-ready).
Whether Vallie Sue will finally ditch the backwater is perhaps overshadowed by a more urgent question: Will the characters here ever stop talking in double negatives?
"Angels in Stardust." MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual material, some menace, language, smoking and teen drinking. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. At AMC's Burbank Town Center 8.
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