There aren't many characters you could call admirable in Hick, the new film from Derick Martini starring Chloë Grace Moretz as Lilu, a young teen who finds nothing but misfortune when she ditches her family and her Nebraska home for the bright lights of Las Vegas. That's sort of the point, though: The world is a dark, challenging place.
But Lilu's home life is no picnic, either. Her father, an irritating drunk played by Anson Mount, has one piece of advice for her that's both wonderful and almost impossible for her to maintain. "Just stay sweet," he tells her. It's actually a very nice moment in a film that's in short supply of nice moments. Can Lilu stay sweet, considering what she's about to go through? The movie is so jumbled, coincidental and ultimately distasteful that, by the end, you might not care.
That's too bad, because Martini's last film, Lymelife, was a nice ensemble piece. And there's no shortage of people who love the novel, written by Andrea Portes, from which this new one was adapted; Portes also wrote the screenplay. But Hick is a mess, a southern-fried gumbo of bad accents, creepy cowboys and characters who are hard to feel sorry for. Lilu is kind of mean; still, you don't want to see any 13-year-old go through the nasty stuff she has to deal with.
Neither Lilu's father nor her mother (a ditzy Juliette Lewis) are particularly attentive to her, so after her 13th birthday, which is held in a bar where both of her parents get hammered and an unidentifiable relative gives her a Smith & Wesson .45 as a gift, Lilu packs her Daisy Dukes and her collection of halter tops and hits the road, hoping to find a sugar daddy or least someone who'll pay attention to her. Thing is, she's got no car, so she's thumbing it, and the first person to pull up and offer her a ride is Eddie Kreezer (Eddie Redmayne), a guy weird enough to start crushing on a barely pubescent girl.
Things don't quite work out between them, however, and soon Lilu finds herself under the auspices of Glenda (Blake Lively), a small-time grifter who has her own history with Eddie. He's not out of the picture, of course, because Eddie's the sociopathic wolf to Lilu's Little Red Riding Hood, the messed-up Robert De Niro to her Jodie Foster. Yeah, it's that kind of movie, but instead of being the kind of creepy that makes you think, it's the kind of creepy that makes you want to turn away.Moretz is a real talent, and Redmayne, whose face is probably unfamiliar to most Americans, is the real deal, a Brit who's turned out a number of interesting roles in recent years. They both do good work here, and though Moretz is coming into her own as an actress more and more, it's not enough to pull this off.
Alec Baldwin and Rory Culkin, who both had parts in Lymelife, make appearances, but each character feels like it's been inserted into a rambling story simply because the actor was willing to put in a day or two as a favor. It's certainly possible that the characters are more important in the book, which I've not read, but here they just feel out of place.
There's an interesting juxtaposition of seeing Juliette Lewis as Lilu's mother, since she made films like Cape Fear, Kalifornia and Natural Born Killers when she wasn't much older than Moretz. But all of those films are filled with menace and intensity, which Hick doesn't have. Instead, the narrative winds around like the dismal back roads on which the movie often takes place, leading to its icky, inevitable conclusion and an epilogue that's supposed to leave you with a sense of optimism but will probably just leave you cold.
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