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Review: Kooky comedy ‘Austin Found’ can’t decide if it wants to be deliciously bad or morally good

Linda Cardellini and Ursula Parker in the movie "Austin Found."
(Nurha de Souza / Gravitas Ventures)

Evil beauty queen, Southern-style noir “Austin Found” is a kooky concoction of “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” “Toddlers & Tiaras,” the ’90s B-movie outlandishness of “Freeway” and the JonBenet Ramsey case. A blond, tanned Linda Cardellini anchors the film as scheming pageant mom Leanne, yearning for the spotlight and desperate for money.

When she glimpses the financial windfall the family of a local kidnapped girl rakes in, Leanne cooks up a plan involving her struggling former high school boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich). He is to safely kidnap her daughter Patty (Ursula Parker), then wait for TV news, Oprah Winfrey, and book deals to come calling. It would be a simple enough plan, except for Billy’s jealous outrage at Leanne’s TV-ready relationship with her husband, Donald (Jon Daly), and the interest of local news reporter Nancy (Kristen Schaal), a victim of Leanne’s mean girl ways in high school.

Director Will Raee and co-writer Brenna Graziano have crafted a tale that’s pleasantly retro and kooky, and Cardellini is compelling in her commitment to character. The cast is rounded out with likable comedians, but this fable can’t decide if it’s going to be deliciously bad or morally upstanding. Do we root for the reprehensible but scrappy Leanne or the kind kidnapper JT (Craig Robinson), Billy’s partner, who forges a bond with hostage Patty? In a self-consciously campy film such as this, it has to be all or nothing.

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‘Austin Found’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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