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All Is Scare When Love Is War

Homecoming (2009)

Paper Street Films/Animus Films

“Homecoming,” the new film from director Morgan J. Freeman, is stuck in a time warp. It stars Mischa Barton, who hasn’t been heard from since the heyday of “The O.C.” It joyfully applies trashy thriller tropes to the small-town high-school narrative popularized by the shows of the old WB network and turn-of-the-century cinematic fare such as “The Skulls,” that bent over backwards to turn R-rated narratives into PG-13-rated fare (although “Homecoming” is unrated). Gleefully, patently absurd, it’s hard to surmise exactly how the movie managed to avoid an unceremonious DVD dumping.

Ms. Barton plays Shelby, once a high-school cheerleader and sweetheart of football star Mike (Matt Long), now turned into a nobody when her man returns to their small town from his big-city university with new girlfriend Elizabeth (Jessica Stroup) in tow. Refusing to see her idyllic dreams of marriage and a family with her dreamboat laid to waste, Shelby kidnaps Elizabeth and locks her up, “Misery”-style, through a series of circumstances too improbably convoluted to describe. With the new girl out of the picture, Shelby sets out to win Mike back, in the process succumbing further and further to her delusions.

The movie takes a premise that might have served as the basis of a weepy romantic drama and turns into something very different, but no less insulting. The strong emotions latent in the narrative get siphoned out by the picture’s focus on Shelby’s inexplicable sociopathic conduct. That might have been acceptable had Mr. Freeman and screenwriter Katie L. Fetting really turned on the crazy and made the film into a demented horror show. But they keep things so firmly entrenched in conservative small-town Americana blandsville that it becomes impossible to regard Shelby’s behavior as anything but manipulation.

That sense is compounded by Ms. Barton’s failure to dredge up the charisma required for the Kathy Bates role; it doesn’t work when the character’s more pouty than intimidating. Mr. Long and Ms. Stroup prove little more than pretty faces, acting as if they’re posing for an American Eagle catalog. The film’s got the cheap look of a sleazy B thriller down pat, mixing shots of a lone figure walking down an abandoned street at night against low-hanging fog with awkward close-ups of the terrified Elizabeth, a raging cat fight or two and a conclusion set in a dimly-lit horror-movie basement. It’s all completely absurd and pitched at a subdued tenor that makes it seem as if Mr. Freeman and Ms. Fetting actually, hilariously, thought someone would take it seriously.


Opens on July 17 in Manhattan.

Directed by Morgan J. Freeman; written by Jake Goldberger, Katie Fetting and Frank M. Hannah; director of photography, Stephen Kazmierski; edited by Keith Reamer; music by Peter Nashel and Jack Livesey; production designer, Mark White; produced by Jim Young, Austin Stark, Bill Papariella and Bingo Gubelman; released by Paper Street Films/Animus Films. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Mischa Barton (Shelby), Matt Long (Mike), Jessica Stroup (Elizabeth), Michael Landes (Billy), Robert Haley (Lloyd) and Hunter Seagroves (Eddie).


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