EmptyPalm Springs International Film Festival
PALM SPRINGS -- Badly in need of tuning, "Cosmic Radio" is a scruffy soap opera set in Idyllwild, a Southern California mountain town with a Bohemian streak. The overplotted, underdeveloped feature draws well upon local flavor but is undone by implausibility.
Performances in the comic drama range from Jonathan Sachar's flat reading of the central character to Irene Bedard's lovely vulnerability to Michael Madsen's from-another-movie Method intensity. "Cosmic" received its world premiere at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
The less-than-cosmic question at the heart of writer-director Stephen Savage's film is whether a 38-year-old trust fund rebel, Sachar's Tyler Stone, can save his independent radio station from financial doom while coming to terms with his inner grown-up. His wealthy father (Seymour Cassel) has pulled the lifeline on the floundering KZMC Cosmic Radio; his self-consciously precocious 13-year-old daughter (Lauren Gregg) has shown up to spend the summer with her absentee dad; and DJ K.C. (Bedard), the ex-girlfriend Tyler still cares for, is tired of waiting for him to make a commitment.
Environmental issues and shady politics complicate matters when the Free Earth Alliance stages a tree-sit, a la Julia Butterfly Hill, in an attempt to block a clear-cutting project. The unlikely protester is rich-girl Rachael (Jackie Forge). At least as much as she's taking a stand for the forest, Rachael is acting out against her evil senator father (Madsen), who has interests in the lumber companies and travels with a posse of thugs. While living in the upper boughs of the 500-year-old tree, Rachael manages to be stylishly dressed and coiffed, her lips perfectly glossed and nails polished -- all the better to seduce Tyler when he climbs up to the platform for the exclusive interview she has offered him.
Beyond the increasingly preposterous plot, it's hard to care about a guy who blithely tells his daughter, "I just really suck at this father thing" -- especially when that daughter is painfully wise beyond her years. With her warmth and intelligence, Bedard provides the only rooting interest; it's no wonder Wes Studi, as K.C.'s wisdom-spouting sheriff uncle, advises her to leave town.