Lisa Schwarzbaum
June 18, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Desert Blue

Current Status
In Season
Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Brendan Sexton III, Christina Ricci
Morgan J. Freeman
Drama, Comedy

We gave it a C

A famous actress in a zip code not her own meets a regular guy, hangs out with him and his colorful friends, and finds there’s more to life than cell phones — not in Notting Hill, but in Desert Blue, yet another indie drama set in a burg reminiscent, by way of aggressive eccentricity, of TV’s Northern Exposure. In the sandy desolation of fictional Baxter, Calif., where this fey teen drama takes place, the big tourist attraction is a giant ice cream cone statue. It’s the hippily named Blue (Brendan Sexton III), son of the man who built the Big Cone, who catches the eye of the dippily named Skye (Kate Hudson), when the snooty TV actress and her roadside-attraction-loving father (John Heard) are temporarily detained in town: A truck accident resulting in the death of the driver — possibly from a spill of toxic cola ingredients — quarantines the entire population of 87. And under house arrest, the restless teens mope, make out, and dream.

As he did in his first, far more affecting film, 1998’s Hurricane Streets, writer-director Morgan J. Freeman creates a biospheric society in which parents are an afterthought — and, indeed, all adults are useless as guides out of the ruts these young people find themselves in. But with brand-name indie actors (including Christina Ricci and Casey Affleck) and kitschy set dressing replacing the unknown performers and authentic New York streets of his award-winning debut, Freeman muffles any real pain experienced in this small society with easy riffs about giant cola companies (bad); stubborn American individualism (good); TV (bad — and anyhow, none of the kids in Baxter seem to know what a TV is); and youthful anarchy (good, especially as practiced by Ricci’s character — the sheriff’s daughter — who likes to blow stuff up).

The performances are all weightless. But the actors, at least, probably had fun zooming around the real desert on real all-terrain vehicles, playing at being hicks. C

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