"Stateside" should have been called "Whiplash." Written and directed by Reverge Anselmo, the film is a head-on collision of spare parts from different genres, none of which work separately or as a collective whole. Part star-crossed love story, part mental illness study, part coming-of-age story, part military drama, "Stateside" tries to be everything at once and ends up being nothing at all. The picture's scenes clang together, one after the other, none of them forming a coherent narrative or creating any sort of rhythm or character involvement. The whole thing is a well-meaning, amateurish mess.
The time is 1980, and Connecticut rich kid Mark Deloach (Jonathan Tucker) seems to have everything going for him until he crashes his car while drinking-and-driving and hurts promiscuous classmate Sue Dubois (Agnes Bruckner) and his Catholic school's headmaster, Father Concoff (Ed Begley Jr.). In a plea bargain to keep him from doing hard time, Mark enlists in the Marines. Before he goes, he meets young actress-singer Dori Lawrence (Rachael Leigh Cook), who is roommates with Sue at a mental hospital (long story). With every visit home, Mark and Dori--who suffers from schizophrenia--fall more and more in love, despite everyone else warning them that they shouldn't be together.
In a smart motion picture about mental illness and teenage romance (think 1995's Chris O'Donnell-Drew Barrymore starrer "Mad Love"), this would be the case, and Mark and Dori would realize that their relationship is doomed and it would be best for both parties to go their separate ways so Dori could concentrate on getting better. In the oddball realm of "Stateside," however, which drifts so far from reality that at times it is akin to watching aliens interact, Mark and Dori joyfully run off together, realistic consequences of such an extreme, life-altering action, be damned. Unlike the aforementioned "Mad Love" or, say, 1999's mental hospital-set "Girl, Interrupted
," "Stateside" never gets serious about the subject of schizophrenia, nor does it satisfactorily explore the ramifications of a healthy young man romancing such a clearly ill woman.
For Mark, he doesn't think twice about his relationship with Dori, despite neither of them having any chemistry or connection outside of what the screenplay requires. As for Dori, she remains little more than a cipher throughout, a showbiz gal whose career has been sidetracked by her illness. For most of her scenes, she rambles on semi-incoherently, her words darting from one topic to the next, and the viewer is meant to think of her as simply a wild, crazy, endearing gal. Instead, all the viewer is left to ponder is what Mark could possibly see in this sick girl, who isn't going to magically get better through his love for her.
Also drifting in and out of the overstuffed narrative are subplots that go nowhere. SDI Skeer (Val Kilmer) is the boot camp instructor whom Mark meets when he enlists in the Marines. A few scenes centering on Skeer are bizarre in that they seem to be setting up a central character, only to drop him completely in the second half where he is never seen or heard from again. Val Kilmer (2004's "Spartan
") embarrasses himself in a glorified cameo; this is his most inept performance in memory. Another character popping up and then quickly disappearing is Sue's mother (Carrie Fisher), who sends her daughter to a mental hospital for no reason other than that she is sexually active. Sue and her mother share only one scene together, and Sue indifferently remains in a halfway house throughout the film. No mention is made by anyone of how, exactly, she is mentally ill.
Mark's high school buddies, like Danny (Daniel Franzese) and Gregory (Michael Goduti), are also set up and then conveniently forgotten about. And Mark's father (Joe Mantegna) is seen in one scene ruthlessly beating his son and then in the next sharing a kind, fatherly heart-to-heart talk with him. Later, still, he is again cruel to Mark. Not yet mentioned is Mark's younger sister (Zena Grey), who is obsessed with her deceased mother and is eccentric in a movie-style way only so she can be yet another colorful individual to pass by at random in the background. And also not yet mentioned is Mark's stint in battle overseas, where he is wounded in battle, loses an eye, and is treated by a chain-smoking nurse, played by Penny Marshall. The less said about Dori getting gang-raped by her male band members, the better.
"Stateside" is a bad film from any viewpoint, and not even the valiant performances from Jonathan Tucker (2003's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
") and Rachael Leigh Cook (2001's "Josie and the Pussycats
") can salvage such incompetent filmmaking on writer-director Reverge Anselmo's part. Even the 1980's setting is intensely confusing, as the characters' fashions and very frame of thinking are of a '60s attitude. Meanwhile, the music spans from the '60s to the '80s to the '90s eras without batting an eyelash. "Stateside" is not romantic, it isn't perceptive about growing up, and it treats mental illness as little more than a tiny hurdle that can easily be conquered. What an insensitive, delusional waste of time.