Director and co-writer James Mangold all but gives us the day-to-day blow-by-blows of Johnny Cash's early years, from rising Sun to falling star almost done in by amphetamines. For all the affection Mangold feels for Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), the movie feels oddly dispassionate -- more like a lecturer reading from a required text than someone recounting a story that needed to be told. Phoenix simply doesn't have the weight, the presence, the gravitas of Cash; he's no more Johnny Cash than a two-year-old in a Halloween costume is Batman. He never disappears in the role the way Jamie Foxx did in Ray, never makes us forget we're watching an acolyte repeat the master's words without embodying their meaning. And it doesn't help that Phoenix and Witherspoon sing the songs themselves, rendering theirs the performances of competent karaoke-club entertainers. Phoenix, especially, is no Val Kilmer. Or, for that matter, Jamie Foxx. Or Johnny Cash.