Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kirsten Dunst, Orlando Bloom, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Judy Greer, Bruce McGill, Jessica Biel, Paul Schneider, Loudon Wainwright III
Written by: Cameron Crowe
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and some sexual references
Running Time: 125
Date: 09/04/2005

Elizabethtown (2005)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Mixed-up Mix tape

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When Cameron Crowe was a young rock journalist, he probably had a good editor who helped shape his copy. Even when he wrote his first screenplay, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982, based on his own book), there was a director, Amy Heckerling, who translated it into a good movie.

Since then, Crowe has become his own director, and he still needs an editor. No one told him to chop the annoying John Mahoney subplot out of Say Anything (1989). He didn't notice that Almost Famous (2000) needed re-focusing, and didn't care that Vanilla Sky (2001) ran 20 minutes longer than its superior predecessor Open Your Eyes.

But Crowe's sixth film, Elizabethtown, spreads itself out with far more mess and clutter than any of the others. To be sure, it conjures up several good ideas and a few good scenes, but nothing ties them together except an equal number of bad scenes and misshapen ideas.

It begins when an Oregon footwear designer, Drew (Orlando Bloom), somehow loses a billion dollars on an ugly shoe. He decides to kill himself, but cannot complete the job before his dad passes away, necessitating a trip to Kentucky to retrieve the body.

On his way, he meets a springy airline stewardess, Claire (Kirsten Dunst), who has something clever and cheery to say at every moment. Drew and Claire meet and talk over the next few days and eventually fall in love. In-between, Drew makes funeral plans while other plot elements are alternately forgotten or conjured anew. Drew gets to spend the movie looking for himself, while poor Claire is already perfect, and Dunst has nothing to do.

Despite these drawbacks, Crowe's characters are often exasperatingly likeable (remember Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire?). One lovely scene has Drew and Claire talking on the phone for hours, all night, until the sun rises. But Crowe lets the magic fade away; he moves on to half-hearted arguments about cremation vs. burial and subplots about a forgotten band reuniting for the funeral to play "Free Bird."

Ultimately, Crowe is a music nerd. The movie's disparate scenes support the music, instead of the other way around. He's so excited about patching together a mix-tape of his favorite songs, coupled with pretty images, that he neglects his story. A long, pointless road-trip winds the film down and drives the final coffin nail, leaving us with some decent tunes, a series of album covers, and little else.

Paramount's DVD release contains, of all things, extended scenes, as if they weren't already long enough! Other extras include making-of featurettes, trailers and a photo gallery.

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