The Bloom is off 'Elizabethtown'

Cameron Crowe's latest film returns to his Kentucky roots, but the soil is fallow.

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

Cameron Crowe has made some charming and heartfelt films, like that miniclassic about first love, "Say Anything," the grunge romance "Singles," and especially "Almost Famous," which was autobiographical in the best sense - it was a serious film about not taking things all that seriously. He also made the overrated "Jerry Maguire," and "Vanilla Sky" - which took itself way too seriously. "Elizabethtown" is a Crowe compendium, and that's the problem. Everything he does here has been done better before, or else wasn't worth doing in the first place.

Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is a shoe designer whose latest, botched creation, about to hit the stores, is poised to collapse his company. (The CEO, deliciously played by Alec Baldwin, tells Drew the shoe "may cause an entire generation to return to bare feet.")

As an added bonus, Drew's girlfriend dumps him, and he gets word that his father has suddenly died in his hometown of Elizabethtown, Ky. Jetting in from the West Coast to plan the funeral, he encounters a flight attendant, Claire (Kirsten Dunst), who is so perky that you wonder why she isn't hosting her own daytime cable TV show. Their live-wire connection continues on the ground, first at a distance, via marathon phone chats, and then face to face, for more jawboning.

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"Elizabethtown" is scaled big but the experience is curiously uninvolving. Part of the problem is that Orlando Bloom is featured almost nonstop, and yet he never seems to be in the movie. He was fine in the "Lord of the Rings" because he wasn't called upon to do much more than look defiant, but here he stands around for long stretches acting mopey when he's supposed to be soulful. Bloom, who also struck out in "Kingdom of Heaven," represents a cautionary tale for directors: Just because someone looks like a movie star doesn't mean he is one. Pretty soon you forget his looks, too; That's what dull acting can do.

The mystery here is why Claire is so interested in Drew in the first place. For a while, you think that maybe she's a scam artist, but no - it's true love. Dunst almost makes the ardor believable. Claire is so eager to please because deep down her chatter camouflages a massive insecurity. Dunst gets at the desperation coiled inside all those perky types and gives it a pinch of poignancy.

That's more than can be said for most of the other actors in "Elizabethtown" who are playing emotional wrecks. Susan Sarandon, as Drew's mother, turns a memorial speech for her husband into a knockabout stand-up routine, and you don't feel sorry for the character, you feel sorry for the actress. I'll say one thing for "Elizabethtown": Like every other Crowe movie, it has a very well- chosen pop/rock soundtrack. It may not be much of a movie, but it's a terrific concert. Grade: C

Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual references.

Sex/Nudity: 1 instance of innuendo, 1 of implied sex. Violence: 1 instance. Language: 4 strong expressions, 14 mild or theological expressions. Alcohol: 9 scenes with drinking. Smoking/Drugs: None.

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