Desert Blue

on June 04, 1999 by Mike Kerrigan
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Baxter (pop. 89) is one of those Western desert towns that seem to exist only in the imagination of moviemakers. You know the place-- every resident is a character with a little secret. We have seen them in comedies like "Bagdad Café" and dramas like "U-Turn". And here they are again in a charming little piece from Morgan J. Freeman which, speaking of U-turns, is a 180-degree spin from his memorable angst-ridden debut, "Hurricane Streets."
   Helping boost the town's population temporarily past the 90 mark is a professor of Americana ("Snake Eyes'" John Heard) and his actress daughter ("200 Cigarettes'" Kate Hudson). They are on a road trip but get stuck in Baxter after a soft drink tanker crashes, spilling its contents. When the tanker driver dies after apparently inhaling the secret formula he's transporting, the place is promptly quarantined by the FBI.
   The professor is right at home; after all, he suggested the detour so he could get a look at the town's landmark--a giant pink ice cream cone. His daughter is less happy. She is desperate to get back to L.A. for an audition and is sure she has absolutely nothing in common with the locals. When she tells them she got a Golden Globe they think she's a boxer.
   Of course she bonds with the motley crew of natives whose idea of a big night out is getting stoned at Baxter Beach, an ocean park which is lacking just one thing--water. It sounds pedestrian and formulaic but smart writing and excellent acting lift it several notches above average.
   Hudson is perfect as the self-centered thespian and Brendan Sexton III ("Hurricane Streets," "Welcome to the Dollhouse") gives another rock-solid performance. Christina Ricci, made up to look like an older Wednesday Addams, is hilarious as a young woman with an interesting hobby: blowing things up. Casey Affleck ("200 Cigarettes"), Sara Gilbert of TV's "Roseanne" and Ethan Suplee ("American History X") are standouts in a very strong supporting cast. Starring Brendan Sexton III, Kate Hudson, John Heard and Christina Ricci. Written and directed by Morgan J. Freeman. Produced by Andrea Sperling, Nadia Leonelli and Michael Burns. A Goldwyn release. Romantic comedy. Rated R for strong language and some teen alcohol abuse. Running time: 88 min.
Tags: desert, Morgan J. Freeman, Kate Hudson, John Heard, death, soft drink, secret, FBI, Brendan Sexton III, Christina Ricci, Casey Affleck, Sara Gilbert, Ethan Suplee, romance
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