It's as old as sin, the story of the hopeless square liberated by the freethinker. It's also as new as several current movies--including Shall We Dance?, wherein a weary suburbanite is revived by the fox-trot, and Dream With the Fishes, in which a suicidal businessman hits the glory road with a life-loving thief.
Tom DeCillo's Box of Moonlight doesn't contribute nearly as much to this new wave of spiritual renewal: An anal-retentive electrical engineer gets freed up by a rustic dropout wearing a coonskin cap (on the Fourth of July, no less), and then everybody goes home. The film is stuffed with sophomoric notions about the perils of overplanning and the romance of skinny-dipping. Very Sixties.
The only surprise here is that Box was written and directed by the same young director who showed such promise with Living in Oblivion, a satire on the neuroses and absurdities of low-budget moviemaking that had all kinds of smart-alecky edge and all kinds of smarts. This time around, DeCillo bogs down in goopy sincerity.
The obsessive clock-watcher of the piece is one Al Fountain (a much-subdued John Turturro), the kind of nerd who hangs a dozen identical white shirts in his closet and is forever steering his kid away from fireworks because they are "illegal." He knows his employees can't stand him, and lately this bundle of nerves has been hallucinating: When a coffee shop waitress pours water, the flow is reversed, emptying the glass; Al imagines bicyclists pedaling backward.
What this head-case needs--according to DeCillo--is a few days out in the woods with a latter-day hobo/hippie called the Kid (Sam Rockwell), who wears buckskins and lives in a wrecked trailer out in the woods. He never pays taxes, ekes out a living selling deer mannequins and eats crushed Oreos for breakfast. Here's the American Dream gotten up in a Davy Crockett outfit, all primed and ready to lay his crude wisdom on poor uptight Al. In a way, Al makes the Kid his project, too. Their several adventures include an encounter with an ax-swinging priest and assorted merry pranksters.
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"Life is a tomato right off the vine," the refurbished, neo-naturalized Al decides at one point. Right on, bro. But sometimes the movie enclosing that not-very-interesting idea is a real lemon.
Box of Moonlight.
Written and directed by Tom DiCillo. With John Turturro, Sam Rockwell and Catherine Keener.