Dir: Allan Mindel. US. 2003. 95mins.

Milwaukee, Minnesota is a typical Sundance competition movie - one of the ones you never hear about again after January - that has somehow washed up on the shores of the Riviera in the Critics' Week section. As such, this effort by first-time director Allan Mindel (the former head of a modelling and 'talent management' company) seems to have been made on a shoestring, is more or less watchable in spite of too many flat spots in the script, and is marred by inconsistent performances. The film's focus on the quasi-retarded Albert (Garity) - a loveable innocent who excels at ice-fishing competitions because he can hear the fish talking under the ice of the upper-Midwestern lakes he haunts, gives the film a modicum of charm that, however - only carries it so far. Festivals looking for an US indie film to round out a sidebar, with the added benefit of motor-mouth director Mindel to liven up a Q&A, may find something here to consider. Otherwise, commercial prospects appear slim.

Writer R D Murphy seems to have put most of his energy into Albert's whimsical, haunting voiceovers which are by far the best thing about the movie and go a long way in keeping viewers emotionally involved. Mostly these include the severe injunctions laid upon him by his frustrated, demanding mother ('Don't look at pretty girls') which continue to jangle around in his head, like an overcharged superego, even after she has been run over and killed. The remainder of the script, however, is largely devoted to fairly predictable generic elements involving all the people trying to make off with Albert's fishing contest winnings once his mother is no longer around to protect him.

First, there is a brother-and-sister team composed of Tuey (Folland), a young tart who passes herself off as a reporter for Time magazine, and her hypochondriac brother Stan (Harris). Next there is super-slick con man Jerry (Quaid) who poses as Albert's father. Rounding out the characters is a grizzled old local, Sean (Dern), who seems to have some long-standing issues with Albert's mother Edna (Monk) and wants only to protect Albert after her death. If this gives you some ideas as to who Sean really is, you are right.

The film intermittently develops some energy, but it feels derivative. There are elements of the early Coen brothers here, but not their acute sense of style. The whimsical music that accompanies Albert's voiceovers delights until you remember you have already heard it in American Beauty. Performances range in quality from the one-note but utterly believable and even touching turn offered by Garity as Albert to the all-too-often unconvincing Alison Folland as femme fatale Tuey. Veterans like Dern and Quaid give it their best, but are hampered by a script that is on the one hand too self-consciously 'quirky' to seem natural, and on the other, too conventional to surprise. Director Mindel serves up a few nice twists and turns at the end of the film, but by then, alas, it is too little and too late.

Prod cos: Framework Entertainment, Empire State Entertainment
Int'l sales:
Alliance Atlantis
Exec prods:
Frances Grill, Joseph Grill
Allan Mindel, Michael J Brody, Jeff Kirshbaum
R D Murphy
Bernd Heinl
Michael Convertino, Robert Muzingo
David Rawlins
Main cast:
Troy Garity, Alison Folland, Bruce Dern, Hank Harris, Debra Monk, Josh Brolin, Holly Woodlawn, Randy Quaid