If you were James Gandolfini and wanted to make people forget all about Tony Soprano, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a more radical switcheroo than Doug Riley, the Indiana plumbing-supply salesman in "Welcome to the Rileys."
Doug is a dumpy good guy whose wife, Lois (Melissa Leo), is so traumatized by the accidental death of their daughter that she has remained housebound for years. Seeking solace for his woes, Doug has been sleeping on the sly with a sympathetic waitress (Eisa Davis) from his favorite diner, but when that ends badly, he is reduced to sitting alone on a stool in his garage, smoking and sobbing.
The mournful note is set early and often in "Welcome to the Rileys," and so, when Doug attends a sales convention in New Orleans, we're prepared for a break in the storm clouds. Why else show us all this low-key misery?
Sure enough, the sunshine arrives on schedule – sort of. Relieving his boredom at a strip bar, Doug spots an underage pole dancer, Mallory (Kristen Stewart), who bears a marked resemblance to his deceased daughter. To her surprise and annoyance, he's not interested in a lap dance; he just wants to talk.
Through a series of not altogether believable plot twists, he ends up moving in with Mallory in her filthy, graffiti-tagged digs. She can't understand why this man isn't interested in getting sexual with her but, because he pays rent, she tolerates the arrangement.
The inherent creepiness of this setup isn't explored. Director Jake Scott and screenwriter Ken Hixon never make plausible why Doug would throw over his life – he leaves his wife and sells his business – just because Mallory brings out the daddykins in him.
Doug's indomitable goodness carries no psychological overtones beyond the most obvious and ready-made. "You have a terrible vocabulary," he chides Mallory, and fines her a dollar for every foul word she utters. The movie unintentionally leaves us as perplexed as Mallory about his real motives.
I'm not saying that "Welcome to the Rileys" should have evoked, say, "Taxi Driver" or "Hardcore," two movies in which men, out of valor rather than lust, became protectors of sexually abused girls. But Doug's mission – to reclaim Mallory's innocence and his own fatherhood – is too deranged for the squeaky-clean treatment it receives here. And when Lois reenters the scene and moves in with Doug and Mallory, silly fades into ludicrous. Lois starts feeling like a parent again, too.
Stewart, at least, is playing someone with a real-world connection. She makes the mistake, as she often does in her films, of racing through her lines in a drony monotone while looking wantonly sulky. But she sparks many of her scenes with Gandolfini and Leo, both of whom are otherwise regularly reduced to insipidity. Leo, in particular, seems poleaxed with good intentions. Her Lois wins the Most Understanding Wife award.
But what, exactly, does she understand? Grade: C (Rated R for strong sexual content, brief drug use, and pervasive language involving a teenager.)
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