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'Safelight' might be better if it shined on her instead of him

'Safelight' might be better if it shined on her instead of him
Juno Temple in "Safelight." (Continental Entertainment)

Set in a California desert town circa the Vietnam War, "Safelight" centers on an unlikely teen romance: Lonely high-school senior and aspiring photographer Charles (Evan Peters) cares for his sick father and works at a truck stop where runaway Vicki (Juno Temple) solicits drivers to be her johns.

Charles helps Vicki to ward off menacing pimp-boyfriend Skid (Kevin Alejandro). She in turn pistol-whips bullies at school who constantly torment Charles because of his limp. (It remains a mystery why the two can't simply stand up for themselves when they are more than capable of defending each other.)

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When Charles tells Vicki about a photography contest he's entering, she offers to drive him around the Golden State to shoot its lighthouses.

First-time filmmaker Tony Aloupis, formerly frontman of the New Jersey rock band Shadows of Dreams, serves up Americana like a stale slice of apple pie. And it's only a matter of time before Skid comes back to haunt the young lovebirds.

Compared with Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," all of this Norman Rockwell fodder feels incredibly chestnut. Had Aloupis simply made Vicki the protagonist instead of Charles, he might have improved "Safelight" significantly.

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"Safelight."

MPAA rating: R for language, sexual references.

Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills. Also on VOD.

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