Hick: Toronto Review

Overacting fails to plug the holes in a hopeless screenplay from director Derick Martini and novelist Andrea Portes.

Director Derek Martini follows the strange adventures of a 13-year-old runaway girl as she hits the road for but never gets to Las Vegas.

Hick is probably what would happen if you took the worst country song imaginable and turned it into a movie. You get white-trash character tooling around back roads in the middle of nowhere, snorting drugs, hustling pool, beating up the winner, robbing a convenience store, raping an underage girl and winding up with a couple of bodies thanks to a gun that “isn’t loaded.” None of this is connected to any sort of reality. These characters are snatched from novels and screenplays — James M. Cain comes to mind — and turned into caricatures. Consequently, it’s hard to develop any emotional connection to the strange odyssey of a 13-year-old runaway, carrying not enough clothes for a sleepover.

Despite drop-in performances by names actors such as Alec Baldwin and Juliette Lewis, Hick from director Derek Martini (Lymelife) looks like one of those films that turns up at festivals and then quietly disappears. Any theatrical distributor would face the problem of figuring out what exactly is the market for this film.

Chloe Grace Moretz plays the movie’s central jail-bait character, Luli, who flees her dirt-poor Nebraska home with two drunken parents following her 13th birthday party. She thoughtfully packs her birthday present, a Smith & Wesson .45.

The characters she meets on the road come more with labels than real personalities. First there’s the Psychopathic Cowboy (Eddie Redmaynein a performance that’s all over the place and nowhere at the same time). Then comes the Grifter (Blake Lively, who lives up to that name). Soon though, the labels get confusing. A sugar-daddy developer (Ray McKinnon) acts more a gangster with a hair-trigger temper. A young chap (Rory Culkin) that characters call the Rich Kid is found playing card games at a Motel 6, not the place, generally speaking, you find rich kids.

Luli’s journey goes in circles so that no matter how often she ditches the Cowboy, she keeps running into him. Meanwhile, the Grifter turns up frequently too. A lot happens yet there really isn’t much plot. What plot there is hangs entirely on the budding sexuality of this extremely underage girl and everyone’s reaction to her allure.

To her credit, Moretz, who is only 14, gives an entirely credible performance as a tenacious, overripe young girl trying out her seductive powers on the worst sort of adults. Perhaps in the 2007 novel written by Andrea Portes, Luli’s narration of her own tale gives color and life to events and characters that ring hollow on screen. The script Portes wrote with the director retains a bit of this narration but apparently not enough.

Performances are mostly over the top, which includes Lewis as Luli’s permanently pickled mom. Baldwin’s character, who turns up for a couple of final scenes, is never introduced or explained although the Greek playwrights did have a label for it — deus ex machina, the god that descends to the stage to sort out a story after the writer writes himself into an inextricable hole.

Tech credits are modest although the movie features a surprisingly good soundtrack of old songs ranging from country to Dylan.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production companies: Stone River Productions, Lighthouse Entertainment and TL Productions present a Treetop Productions film
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Blake Lively, Eddie Redmayne, Alec Baldwin, Juliette Lewis, Rory Culkin
Director: Derick Martini
Screenwriter: Andrea Portes, Derick Martini
Based on the novel by: Andrea Portes
Producers: Steven Siebert, Christian Taylor, Jon Cornick
Executive producer: Charles De Portes
Director of photography: Frank Godwin
Production designer: Roshelle Berliner
Music: Larry Campbell
Costume designer: Erika Munro
Editor: Mark Yoshikawa
Sales: Content Media, CAA/WME
No rating, 103 minutes