By Michael Rechtshaffen
Film festival favorite Tom DiCillo ("Living in Oblivion", "Johnny Suede") applies a deft satirical touch to a quirky trifle of a picture that nevertheless holds a goofy allure thanks to the buoyant performances of leads John Turturro
and Sam Rockwell.
While this comic journey of self-discovery hits a couple of roadblocks along the way, the prevailing whimsical irreverence is catchy. Trimark should be pleased with what a little "Moonlight" can do in the specialty arena.
Turturro is Al Fountain, a straitlaced, rigidly by-the-book electrical engineer overseeing a remote construction job. When the project is abruptly canceled, Al, troubled by disturbing visions (kids riding bicycles backward and waitresses pouring coffee in reverse), decides to spend a couple of extra days trying to find his true self.
The experiment doesn't begin well. Al returns to the idyllic recreational lake of his youth, only to find it long abandoned -- its waters having turned into a chemical dump site for nearby factories.
But then his pre-Independence Day quest for the meaning of life takes an unexpected turn when he meets the Kid (Rockwell), a free-spirited Nature Boy
decked out in a tattered Davy Crockett outfit (complete with the coonskin cap) who lives in a half-shell of a mobile home and believes chopped-up Hydrox cookies served in dog food bowls of milk with big wooden spoons consitutes a balanced breakfast.
The childlike Kid proves to have a positive influence on Al, who keeps on delaying his return home to his perplexed wife (Annie Corely) and mathematically challenged son (Alexander Goodwin
) until he has something resembling an epiphany.
Turturro is terrific as the clock-watching Fountain, but it is Rockwell who almost steals the show as the perennial lost boy. His is an irresistibly loopy performance, played out with a nonchalant innocence serves as an effective comic contrast to the meticulous Turturro.
Among the supporting players, DiCillo regular Catherine Keener
and Lisa Blount
are equally effective as Floatie and Purlene Dupre, a pair of sisters who help Al and the Kid set off some Fourth of July fireworks; while Dermot Mulroney
does a considerable change of pace from his current "My Best Friend's Wedding" outing as the disfigured Wick, a tough guy who has an understandable aversion to lit matches.
While the film is not without its problems -- it could have benefited considerably from a little pruning, and the ultimate explanation for Al's visions is pretty lame -- writer-director DiCillo has done a creditable job of keeping the oddball characters and situations affably amusing.
He's ably assisted by director of photography Paul Ryan, who has a strong affinity for outdoor shooting, and production designer Therese DePrez, whose imaginative, fanciful touches strike the perfect visual chord. Taking a page out of the Tarantino songbook, the picture's accompanying tunes are big on '60s surf/party rock, with appropriately loose selections from the Chantays, the Champs and the Fireballs.
BOX OF MOONLIGHT
Lakeshore Entertainment presents
a Lemon Sky production
A Tom DiCillo film
Producers, Marcus Viscidi
& Thomas A. Bliss
Executive producers:Michael Mendelsohn, Tom Rosenberg
, Sigurjon Sighvatsson
& Steven Sherman
Director of photography:Paul Ryan
Production designer:Therese DePrez
Costume designer:Ellen Lutter
Al Fountain:John Turturro
The Kid:Sam Rockwell
Floatie Dupre:Catherine Keener
Purlene Dupre:Lisa Blount
Deb Fountain:Annie Corely
Bobby Fountain:Alexander Goodwin
Running time - 107 minutes