Eye Of The Beholder

It's Hard To Tell Who The Farrelly Brothers Are Trying To Woo With 'Outside Providence.'

OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE includes two stories that have not been overworked by the Hollywood script mills. In one, a middle-aged, blue-collar man announces to his middle-aged, blue-collar friends at their weekly poker game that he's gay. In the other, a man is unable to cope with his wife's agoraphobia and depression.

Unfortunately, both of these stories are given a total of about five minutes combined, whereas the other 90 minutes of Outside Providence seems to consist of re-enacted scenes from a dozen other movies.

Not that Outside Providence is a bad film; nor is it a good film. It sort of fails to be any film by already having been a lot of other films.

Basically, the story is about 17-year-old Timothy Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy), whose father calls him "dildo" and whose younger brother is confined to a wheelchair. Busted for smoking pot and crashing into a parked police car, he's sent away from his lower-middle-class Rhode Island home to a prep school in Connecticut.

Of course, shortly after walking on campus he spies The Most Beautiful Girl In The School, played by Amy Smart. She's one of those women who, when initially glimpsed, is always seen in slow motion, with long hair flying majestically upwards to catch the perfect glint of sunlight.

Since she's The Most Beautiful Girl In The School, and Tim "Dildo" Dunphy is The Outsider Boy, he of course immediately falls in love with her and shortly thereafter, for no apparent reason, she reciprocates.

Other than the fact that she's The Most Beautiful Girl In The School, it's hard to say why Tim loves her, as the only sense we get of her personality is in a scene where Tim tells his friends that he can "bust her balls" and she doesn't mind. Other than that, her main character trait is that she has the magical ability to make the movie turn into a series of beautifully photographed montage sequences, with autumnal New England scenes and goo-goo-eyed kisses on fields of green.

These sequences are actually pretty nice to look at, thanks to some luscious photography by cinematographer Richard Crudo and the always photogenic October foliage of the Northeast. And, of course, they feature the aforementioned beauty.

When he's not twirling through slow-mo montages, Tim has to deal with a number of characters who've drifted in from other movies. There's the Evil Headmaster who's out to get Tim just because he's different. There's the Nerdy Schoolboy whose life is made a living hell by the Cruel Jocks. There's his collection of Zany Drug Addict Friends. There's pretty much every character from every teen film, including a James Spader clone named Jack Wheeler (played by James Spader clone Gabriel Mann) who betrays Tim and The Most Beautiful Girl In The School to the Evil Headmaster.

Outside Providence doesn't just draw characters and photo-montages from other movies, though. There's actually a scene where young Tim, trying to save his girlfriend from some trouble, gives a dean of Brown University the "isn't there one time in your life when you made a mistake?" speech.

In spite of its almost complete lack of originality, Outside Providence is pretty watchable, mostly because it avoids contemporary teen-film stylings for a more somber, 1970s romantic style. It looks good, and it has an overarching sadness that keeps it from devolving into a wacky '90s gross-out film. Sadly, there is one vomit sequence (which must appear in every late-'90s comedy due to some complications in last year's congressional budget package), but other than that the mood is sorrowful rather than silly, and the cinematography reflects this nicely in its emphasis on the denuded New England foliage.

While the film owes nothing to such gross-out hits as There's Something About Mary, it was in fact written by the Farrelly brothers, who wrote that film as well as such classics of the gross-out genre as Kingpin and Dumb and Dumber. For some reason (the reason being a word that starts with "m" and ends with "oney"), Miramax is putting endless references to Something About Mary in its ads for Outside Providence, which is deeply misleading. The two films have almost nothing in common (except for the fact that both feature The Beautiful Woman Without Any Specific Character Traits), and in some ways are direct opposites.

I imagine that a lot of people drawn into the theater by their love of semen-in-the-hair gags will not enjoy Outside Providence. If Outside Providence had more fully succeeded in its aspirations, I would think that this was too bad; but it falls just a little short of producing what it wants and what is largely missing from contemporary cinema, which is an affecting and sad film that focuses on the daily pains that give texture to life. In a time when studios are salivating over the prospect of making American Pie II: A La Mode, Dumb and Dumber Get Ice-Pick Lobotomies and Something's Stuck To Woody Harrelson's Butt!, it would be refreshing to see a movie that looks for inspiration somewhere other than in things one finds on the bottom of one's shoe.

Outside Providence is playing at Century El Con (202-3343), Century Gateway (792-9000) and Foothills (742-6174) cinemas.

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