Welcome to the Rileys -- Film Review

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An oft-told tale gets brightened by three fine performances.

PARK CITY -- In his second feature, "Welcome to the Rileys," longtime commercial and music video director Jake Scott takes on the more than trite, if not completely tattered, tale of the prostitute and the man who wants to save her.

Oh, there's a twist on that theme to be sure, but such a story is never going to work on a realistic level.

Scott gets nice performances though from a cast that is a virtual three-hander -- James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo and Kristen Stewart.

Despite its selection in Sundance's Dramatic Competition, where one expects experimental and edgy works, the film feels old-fashioned and somewhat removed from contemporary indie filmmaking. "The Twilight Saga" Stewart should deliver a curious audience -- and she certainly satisfies that curiosity -- yet no one should anticipate much theatrical business. The movie will gain better traction in VOD and DVD.

That twist on the old theme positions Gandolfini and Leo's Doug and Lois Riley as a Midwestern couple drifting aimlessly through life since the death of a beloved teenage daughter. He maintains a plumbing supply business and brightens his week with card games and an affair with an obliging waitress. For her part, Lois has developed agoraphobia so she never leaves the house.

At a convention in New Orleans, Doug encounters a teenage stripper and hooker, Mallory (Stewart). Without knowing why exactly, he becomes a tenant in her rat's nest of a house and sets about fixing the place, getting her proper bedding and subtly trying to rehabilitate her. Of course, the audience knows exactly why he has adopted a troubled girl the age of his dead daughter.

When her husband refuses to return home without explanation, Lois summons her courage and vanquishes her mental devils to the point she is able first to venture into the car, then back it out of the driveway and finally drive it to New Orleans. There she confronts the tenuous situation between her husband and a not-always grateful hooker. She gets the situation immediately though and pretty much takes over the mother role with near disastrous results.

Buying any of this? It's all a little too obvious and simultaneously implausible, but Ken Hixon's screenplay does serves as a blueprint for three fine performances. Galdofini plays utter misery and then utter optimistic conviction with ease. His attempted rehab of Mallory has a sweet poignancy that almost sweeps away the cliches.

Stewart's Mallory is something the cat dragged in, a person of little self-worth who is determined to lose even what little she does have. She can barely relate to an adult other than with her sexuality -- or more accurately, her sexual availability. Anger and self-hatred propels her body through each day.

Leo's bereaved woman already has one foot in the grave -- she has even ordered gravestones for herself and Doug -- but New Orleans gives back her life. She has conquered her fears but she needs to conquer her guilt over her daughter's death.

Marc Streitenfeld's score with a slight jazz influence and Christopher Soos' close-up camerawork within a de-glamorized New Orleans are major pluses. But the movie never overcomes the triteness of its premise.

Production companies: Scott Free Prods./Argonaut Pictures
Cast: James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, Melissa Leo, Joe Chrest, Ally Sheedy, Tiffany Coty, Elsa Davis
Director: Jake Scott
Screenwriter: Ken Hixon
Producers: Michael Costigan, Giovanni Agnelli, Scott Bloom
Executive producers: Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Steve Zaillian, Ken Hixon
Director of photography: Christopher Soos
Production designer: Happy Massee
Music: Marc Streitenfeld
Costume designer: Kim Bowen
Editor: Nicolas Gaster
Sales: UTA
No rating, 110 minutes