1-1/2 stars (out of 4)
Right away, Reverge Anselmo's "Stateside" appears to be a movie at war with itself. Envelopes and postal marks dance in flashy, animated opening credits over sugary pop music that might open a teenage road movie.
In a serious-minded film about a troubled youth-turned-soldier ("The Deep End's" Jonathan Tucker) who falls in love with a mentally ill former movie starlet (Rachael Leigh Cook), this curtain-raiser seems glaringly out of place.
But then again, much of "Stateside" strives to find an appropriate tone, straddling the line between a drama about schizophrenia and a "based on a true story" bio pic mired in themes of love and war.
After a drinking and driving incident, rich brat Mark Deloach (Tucker) gets shipped off to the Marines to polish his silver spoon. While on leave, he meets Dory (Cook), a troubled young lady who gravitates toward his lost boy wounded charm. Incomplete people apart, they complete one another together--or so they think.
"Stateside" deserves points for attempting sensitivity to mental illness issues. When Mark breaks Dory out of her room in a mental hospital, he's confronted by one of her friends.
"What are you doing?" she asks, staring at the catatonic Dory.
"I'm trying to sober her up," Mark says.
"She's not drunk," she replies. "She's sick."
Cook spends most of her time looking weepy or spouting cringe-worthy non sequiturs about the cleanliness of train station handrails.
Penny Marshall, Carrie Fisher, Joe Mantegna and Val Kilmer all lend a hand in a tribute to talented casting directors, or a testament to called-in favors. Kilmer gets the most bit-player screen time as Sgt. Skeer, a tough-'cause-he-loves-you drill instructor who makes a man out of Mark at boot camp.
Kilmer, almost always fascinating in even sub-par movies, chews the scenery--over-pronouncing and over e-nun-ci-at-ing orders at high volume to his mud-covered grunts."You are here because you could not be trained to become men by the mothers of America!" he barks.
It's no wonder Kilmer's part is outsized in a section of the movie that could easily have been cut down (and perhaps should have been, given the lack of thematic focus in the film). But Kilmer's so watchable, such a beautiful car crash in this pileup of a film, it's easy to see why director Anselmo lingers on him. Kilmer alone, however, isn't reason enough to sit through this cinematic boot camp.
Ultimately, "Stateside" ends up a diluted, scattered drama--less than the sum of its parts, but with an impressive cameo list.
Written and directed by Reverge Anselmo; photographed by Adam Holender and Tom Priestley Jr.; production design by Michael Shaw; music by Joel McNeely; music by Joel McNeely; produced by Robert Greenhut and Bonnie Hlinomaz. A Samuel Goldwyn Films release; opens Friday, May 21. Running time: 1:36. MPAA rating: R (language, some sexuality/nudity and underage drinking).
Mark Deloach - Jonathan Tucker
Dori Lawrence - Rachael Leigh Cook
Mr. Deloach - Joe Mantegna
Sgt. Skeer - Val Kilmer
Fr. Concoff - Ed Begley Jr.
Lt. Chevetone - Penny Marshall
Mrs. Dubois - Carrie Fisher