Jonathan Tucker as Mark Deloach
Rachael Leigh Cook as Dori Lawrence
Joe Mantegna as Mr. Deloach
Val Kilmer as SDI Skeer
Ed Begley Jr. as Father Concoff
Penny Marshall as Lt. Chevetone
Carrie Fisher as Mrs. Dubois
Diane Venora as Mrs. Hengen
Daniel Franzese as Danny Tripodi
Michael Goduti as Gregory Tripodi
Agnes Bruckner as Sue Dubois
Caryn Greenhut as Jenny
Brian Geraghty as Chris
Billy Lush as Nando
Bridget Barkan as Francine

It’s 1980 and Mark DeLoach (Jonathan Tucker) is a lonely teen from an affluent family forced to join the Marines rather than face jail time for a drunk driving accident. In basic training, he is faced with a ruthless senior drill instructor (Val Kilmer) who tries to knock him down a few pegs. On returning home, he meets schizophrenic actress/singer Dori Lawrence (Cook), who is on leave from a floundering career, and the two kindred misfits fall in love despite the world not wanting them together.

The opening statement heralds Stateside as being “based on a true story”, and apparently, much of this odd teen romance is based on elements from director Reverge Anselmo’s own life. The question is whether his plan was to document his time in the Marines or tell a love story of two outcasts who only can find happiness when they’re together. The first 45 minutes of the movie don’t do much to help answer that question.

Stateside is far too unfocused, trying to be part military drama and part teen romantic comedy. Dori Lawrence is introduced early in the movie with a psychotic episode on a movie set, and then we don’t see her again until much later. Mark is introduced with the events leading up to his military duty that could have easily been an “After School Special” on dealing with the consequences of drunk driving. The scenes of Mark’s basic training is like a lighter version of Full Metal Jacket, but just as one gets comfortable with that aspect of the movie, the gears shift again as Mark returns home and meets Dori, now the roommate of the institutionalized victim from Mark’s drunk driving accident. And this is where it all goes downhill.

Despite all of the attempts to develop the characters before they meet, we are never given any solid reason for these two characters to be together except that they’re both outcasts. By the time the movie gets around to the actual love story, enough reasons have been given to not like either the Marine or the crazy girl he falls for. Because of this, there’s nothing touching or sentimental about their relationship. As one would expect, when Dori’s psychotic condition worsens, Mark is unprepared to deal with it, so people around them immediately want to split them up. At that point, the movie becomes a bad version of Benny and Joon without the benefits of humor or worse, an attempt to make an “arty” version of Kirsten Dunst’s Crazy/Beautiful.

You might not be able to tell that this movie takes place during the 80’s without reading the press notes, but could have just as easily taken place in the 40’s, 70’s or any other time when soldiers were sent off to war. Of course, Mark ends up going off to war and getting injured, an overused plot device used far too often in this type of movie. Either that, or the filmmaker was trying to make a powerful message about war, but by that time, it’s far too late for the movie to try to get intelligent.

Jonathan Tucker was Tilda Swinton’s troubled teen son in The Deep End, but he is not strong enough an actor to carry a movie by himself. He spends most of the movie moping around like someone killed his dog, and the rest with a goofy grin of a guy in love. He’s working against the odds trying to bring anything to this story, but his character might work if played by a stronger actor like Jake Gyllenhaal or Ryan Gosling, both of whom have played similar roles.

To be quite blunt, Rachel Leigh Cook should not be allowed to act, and she should never be allowed to play a complex role like this. She makes a mockery of the mental disorder that afflicts her character with the awful delivery of her lines. Her performance is so over-the-top and her lines are so non-sensical that she can barely stifle her own laugher. Either way, she fails to make Dori even a remotely sympathetic character. Instead, we end up laughing at how dumb she sounds. Likewise, a better actress like Angelina Jolie might have done a better job.

The parents, Joe Mantegna as Mark’s father and Carrie Fisher as Sue’s mother, are also both despicable stereotypes, who seem to have absolutely no care or compassion for their kids. Ed Begley Jr. attempting a thick Irish accent is rather ugly, and Penny Marshall making a cameo as a nurse just boggles the mind. Yes, this is indeed the strangest cast ever assembled.

As a contrast, Blue Car‘s Agnes Bruckner is sorely wasted as Sue, the victim of Mark’s accident and an underdeveloped secondary role. Like in David Mamet’s Spartan, Val Kilmer brings as much as he can to his stereotypical drill sergeant role, and his relationship between his character and Mark is one of the strongest ones of the movie. It’s a shame that this aspect of the movie is barely touched upon.

Either way, no actor could have saved this movie from its bland plot and amateurish dialogue. The whole thing is just one big boring mess.

The Bottom Line:
Clearly, director/writing Reverge Anselmo felt this was a story he needed to tell. For every person who has a story to tell, few of them are strong enough to sustain a movie, and Stateside isn’t one of them. It ends up being all over the place, rarely landing anywhere even remotely interesting or worthwhile. In the last few years, there have been so many great coming-of-age love stories with much more talented teen actors, and this quirky attempt to redesign “Romeo and Juliet” suffers from the poor writing and even worse acting. While it already has a bit of competition, Stateside may very well be the worst movie this year.

Stateside opens in limited release this Friday.