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Getting bogged down in dreck in Florida

Times Staff Writer

A disappointing conclusion to his Florida panhandle trilogy, Victor Nunez’s “Coastlines” is a skeeter noir bogged down in the unconvincing pulp of a melodrama without conviction. Its late arrival in theaters, more than four years after debuting at Sundance, only compounds the letdown.

Unlike “Ruby in Paradise” and “Ulee’s Gold,” with their well-drawn, plain-folk characters, “Coastlines” is populated by ciphers. The anticipation based on the earlier films and Nunez’s penchant for quality casting temporarily obscures that realization, but about a quarter of the way through the movie, it becomes clear these characters are not going to lead us any further than a mucky tangle of revenge and misdirected lust.

Timothy Olyphant of “Deadwood” stars as Sonny, whose early parole from prison unsettles the drug-running Vances, Fred (William Forsythe) and Eddie (Josh Lucas), for whom he took the fall. Fred offers a piece of the business but Sonny is dead-set on getting $200,000 they owe him.

Further complicating matters is Sonny’s childhood buddy, Dave (Josh Brolin), a police officer hoping to keep his pal on the straight and narrow. Dave has settled down with his wife, Ann (Sarah Wynter), and two young daughters to a seemingly idyllic life of domestic tranquillity.

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Sonny’s arrival, however, stirs in Ann a yearning for crazier days and soon after expressing this out-of-nowhere desire, she’s rolling on the kitchen linoleum with the wayward pal. Dave has supposedly become boring, but there’s little evidence he was ever a wild-and-crazy guy. Nor does Sonny project the kind of heat that would convincingly propel the devoted mother and medical practitioner into the kinds of risks Ann takes.

Olyphant possesses the kind of thousand-yard stare that suggests something deeper going on, but the film never gives it any kind of payoff. Wherever it is he goes when his eyes glaze over is never revealed here, and though Sonny initially seems like a smart cookie who may have some grand plan, that turns out not to be the case.

There are moments, as when Sonny goes to work for his old friend Bob (Robert Wisdom), who owns a garage, that threaten to pull the story back to the quiet realism where Nunez excels, but those hopes are quickly dashed. Just as any bit of genuine characterization surfaces, it’s interrupted by a clumsily executed sex scene or an explosion.

Almost everything about the plot seems hopelessly off-key, but the ending is especially improbable, ignoring the betrayal and deceit that precede it. Nunez neither embraces genre conventions nor turns them on their ear, but he seems to betray his own sensibilities. For fans of Nunez’s previous work, it’s almost as if he put in all the cliches he would normally avoid and left out the wonderfully textured internal moments that made “Ruby” and “Ulee’s Gold” unique.

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‘Coastlines’

MPAA rating: R for some sexuality and brief language

An IFC FirstTake release. Writer-director Victor Nunez. Producers Jody Patton, Nunez. Cinematographer Virgil Marcus Mirano. Editor Nunez. Costume designers Lisa Martin-Stuart, Marilyn Wall-Asse. Music Charles Engstrom. Production designer Pat Garner. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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At Laemmle’s Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd., (323) 655-4010.


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