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'Box of Moonlight' offers one solution for midlife crisis

Scene from 'Box of Moonlight' August 7, 1997
Web posted at: 8:28 p.m. EDT (0028 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- Tom DiCillo's "Box of Moonlight" isn't the most intellectually earth-shaking thing you're ever going to see, but it displays a goofy charm.

A great deal of that comes from actor Sam Rockwell, who plays a character known as "The Kid." The movie is much more enjoyable than sitting through the umpteenth two-fisted pistol attack of the summer movie season.

As was the case with his last film, "Living in Oblivion," DiCillo tends to repeat himself thematically, but there's no denying that there's a real comic mind at work here.

While I was watching "Box of Moonlight," I certainly wasn't thinking (as is so often the case) that yet another schmuck was aping Scorsese or Tarantino or Spike Lee or whoever it was that made them decide to go to NYU film school. The style and heart of the film are unique to its creator, which is a big compliment these days.

Losing a job gives life new meaning

Movie trailers from "Box of Moonlight"
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Partial trailer: 1MB/26 sec. QuickTime Movie
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Full trailer: 2 min., 13 sec. VXtreme streaming video

The story is about growing younger as we get older, an idea that I wholeheartedly endorse. The problem is, once we realize that the main character, Al Fountain (an electrical engineer played by John Torturro) is having a midlife crisis and must start being less judgmental in order to appreciate his life, that's really all we get.

DiCillo, who also wrote the script, then approaches this idea from 20 different angles with a series of vignettes ranging from the quite amusing to the proudly so-so. It's all a little bit obvious, but appealingly done.

Normally, Al lives in Chicago. His wife and video game-obsessed son (whose inept stabs at learning the multiplication tables are hilarious) patiently wait in Illinois while Al finishes up a generator job in the backwoods of Tennessee.

He's the foreman on the job, but we can see that he really gets little joy from his work, regardless of how much energy and no-nonsense concentration he puts into it. He knows that the guys who work under him think he's a joke, or, as he hears one of them saying, "a robot." When the plug is suddenly pulled on the job, Tom calls his wife and tells her that he'll be home in a few days.

Events move in reverse

Scene from 'Box of Moonlight'

This gives him ample opportunity to try to loosen up. His first attempt doesn't work out too well. He excitedly drives out to a nearby lake that he remembers fondly from a childhood vacation, but it's a decrepit reminder of where his soul has gone -- a chemical company has pumped it full of formaldehyde. Later, while staying at a small hotel, Al discovers his first gray hair. This somehow causes him to occasionally see things moving backward in time, like coffee leaving a cup at a diner and pouring itself back into the waitress's pot.

He also notices a little boy riding his bike backward down a country road. Eventually, he turns a blind corner on one of those winding roads and nearly slams his car into "The Kid," a buckskin-wearing guy in his mid-20s who seems to be the world's oldest living 13-year-old. For many convoluted reasons, Al winds up spending the Fourth of July holiday week with him, and, of course, relearns how to be innocent.

Rockwell is really the catalyst of the movie, and he gets all the best bits of business. He's a lanky, almost soulfully goofy performer, who does everything he can to humanize DiCillo's rather mapped-out idea of a real-life eccentric.

Some scenes have Kurt Vonnegut quality

DiCillo has written some funny lines for him, though. The Kid makes a living by stealing plastic deer and ceramic elves from suburban lawns and selling them. He also lives in half a trailer because, he explains, he got a deal on it, and eats a daily breakfast of Hydrox cookies floating in a dog bowl full of milk. Plus, he decorates year-round, with strings of Christmas lights. As The Kid explains, he's been "off the grid now for about three years."

You can see what I mean already about the character. It's like he's been hosed down and rolled in sugar. Maybe it's just me, but I think it would be possible to understand his playful nature without dressing him up in a Davy Crockett suit and making him eat handfuls of yummy cookies. A lot of his quirks are nice, however. I can't think of another movie character in the past several years who could believably initiate a spontaneous tomato fight with someone and have it seem like the logical extension of his own world view.

There's something to be said for that. The best scenes in the movie have an almost Kurt Vonnegut-like simplicity of spirit. I'd be surprised if DiCillo isn't a fan; the concept of time moving backward before our eyes has Vonnegut written all over it.

Things get pretty repetitive by the end. A sequence in which Al and The Kid pick up a couple of sisters (Catherine Keener and Lisa Blount) at a hidden-away watering hole is sweet, but there's really no call for it, except to expand the story to feature length.

It's also a little disturbing that Al is partially redeemed by cheating on his wife. All in all, though, I had a pleasant time with this movie. DiCillo may well be on the verge of some interesting character-based movies. He just needs less whimsy and more depth.

"Box of Moonlight" contains skinny-dipping moments of male nudity, some profanity and a weird, almost disturbing scene in which Al and The Kid get a big kick out of vandalizing the plant that Al had been working on. There's some violence. Teen-agers (ages 14-15) might like it, but other young people should stick to "Air Bud." Rated R. 107 minutes.

 
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