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Peace and Lite

In Box of Moonlight, John Turturro finds himself ... in a too-precious movie

Maybe Turturro felt the pressure of playing against an actor who's positioned to be Mr. Hang-loose. The Kid is an affable space cadet, and it's probably a minor feat for Sam Rockwell that most of the time he resists falling into airhead mannerisms. But DiCillo wants us to see the Kid as the soul of American innocence, even though he can't hold his own with characters who give off a whiff of experience -- whether it's Dermot Mulroney as a townie with a huge burn scar and a fear of matches, or Catherine Keener and Lisa Blount as those ill-used small-town gals Floatie and Purlene.

The Kid proclaims, with incongruous hipness, that he's "off the grid." Al, of course, has both feet on the grid. But it's the people with one foot on and one foot off who give the film any comic or dramatic traction. DiCillo, who explored even stranger realms of whimsy in his debut fiasco, Johnny Suede, may be the worst judge of his own gifts. He hankers after poetic goofiness without having the faintest knack for it: His fables are like laborious watercolors with all the pencil sketch-marks showing through. His nightmare farce about low-budget moviemaking, Living in Oblivion, showed off his potential as a realistic satirist. But even that patchy lampoon of industry types teetered toward preciosity. It hit home mostly for festival fans used to enduring misfires such as Johnny Suede -- or, alas, Box of Moonlight.

Box of Moonlight.
Directed and written by Tom DiCillo. With John Turturro, Sam Rockwell, Catherine Keener, Annie Corley and Dermot Mulroney. Rated R. 107 minutes.

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