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OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE

by: Scott Renshaw

Miramax bows to no one when it comes to marketing films, but with OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE, they've crossed the line. They're touting the film as "the new comedy from the guys who made THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY," which is deceptive for two reasons. First, though Peter and Bobby Farrelly contributed to the script (based on Peter's semi-autobiographical novel), OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE was directed by Michael Corrente (FEDERAL HILL). Second, OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE is about as much like THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY as THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY is like THE BIG CHILL. A raucous, outrageous Farrelly brothers comedy it is not, despite the three-legged dog prominently displayed in all the ad copy.

To cut Miramax some slack, I'm not sure what they should have done to market this film. It starts with a decent high-concept comic premise: Circa 1974, Pawtucket, Rhode Island working class 17-year-old Tim "Dunph" Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy) has a stoned encounter with a parked police car. Dunph's concerned single father (Alec Baldwin) calls in a favor and sends him away from his dead-end buddies to Cornwall Academy, a tony Connecticut prep school. There Dunph finds he fits in surprisingly well, finding a different set of stoner pals and continuing to waste his high school years away. Then he meets Jane Watson (Amy Smart), an academically ambitious girl whose influence begins to turn Dunph around.

Every so often, OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE shows flashes of the twisted sensibility the Farrelly brothers have come to represent. Many of those moments involve Dunph's wheelchair-bound brother (Tommy Bone), who slams around the bed of a pickup truck and feigns a developmental handicap to get into a pro football game. There's also a funny scene in which Cornwall's elderly dean (George Martin) reads a profane stream-of-addled- consciousness letter from Dunph's best friend Drugs (John Abrahams), and a stupid human trick with a strand of spaghetti better seen than described. Such moments are rare, however, generally taking a back seat to romantic montages, gruff family bonding, and more dope-filled scenes than we've seen since the glory days of Cheech & Chong.

It's not the fault of Corrente or the Farrellys that Miramax is promising something OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE isn't. It is their fault that it's hard to enjoy what OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE is. This episodic coming-of-age tale has no focus, no rhythm, and no strong sense of its characters. Dunph's interchangeable Pawtucket pals simply occupy space, never even coming to life when they interact with Dunph's upper-crust schoolmates. Most of the scenes at Cornwall are strangely inert, rarely exploiting the fish-out-of-water concept of a blue collar amidst starched collars except for a single lame prank. By the time OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE staggers through a few more out-of-nowhere sub-plots -- including revelations about Dunph's late mother and a betrayal by a Cornwall crony (Gabriel Mann, Young James Spader Lookalike Contest finalist) -- Dunph's gradual acceptance of responsibility is lost. The filmmakers' wandering attention span suggests they were catching plenty of second-hand smoke from their cast.

OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE does have a certain gritty appeal as an off-beat family dramedy. Hatosy's performance is solid, as is Baldwin's atypical work as an unconventional father. Corrente knows the streets of Providence, and he creates that world effectively with cinematographer Richard Crudo. It's just a film that's always casting around for its center, offering sporadic entertainment that doesn't stick to you. It's not quite funny enough for a comedy, not quite insightful enough for a story of adolescent awakening, and not quite emotional enough for a story of family ties. That's a hard sell for any marketing department, enough to send you fishing for comparisons to a movie that exists in an entirely different universe.

On the Renshaw scale of 0 to

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