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Movie Review: Main Street

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It's not hard to see how a movie like Main Street got made, at least in theory. Why it's being released is another question altogether.

Even in these times when "serious" dramas have trouble finding funding, this one probably looked like a no-brainer. It had a script by the late (and Pulitzer Prize/Oscar-winning) Horton Foote. It had a cast that included Colin Firth (pre-Oscar), Patricia Clarkson, Ellen Burstyn, Orlando Bloom and Amber Tamblyn. And it dealt with the oh-so au courant topic of hazardous waste (sort of).

And ... splat. Here's a movie that implies that it's building to something even as it goes absolutely nowhere. I'll even go so far as to reveal the ending (SPOILER ALERT) just to show how little there is happening here.

What plot there is focuses on Firth, as Gus Leroy, who comes to Durham, N.C., to convince the dying city that they should allow his Texas-based company to build a depot to process hazardous waste. What kind? It's never specified - but it's hazardous.

His foothold is with the widow Georgianna Carr (Burstyn), an elderly Southern belle whose family made a fortune in tobacco until that pesky surgeon general's report lit the fuse on people actually noticing that cigarettes could kill them. She still owns the family mansion, but she's really broke. So she rented her empty warehouses to Leroy without even asking him what he wanted them for.

Now she's worried about just how hazardous that waste might be. So she calls up her divorced niece Willa (Clarkson) to deal with Gus.

The subplot, such as it is, involves Harris (Bloom), a mother-smothered cop who's going to law school. He's got it bad for Mary, a secretary at a Raleigh law firm - but Mary is having an affair with one of the lawyers (Andrew McCarthy). When the lawyer turns out to be married - and then has her fired for rejecting him because she found that out - she decides she'll move to Atlanta and start over.

Curiously, she tells her parents that she is leaving the next day - and wants Harris to drive her to the airport. Never mind that she owns a car and that Atlanta is only a day's drive from Durham. She's flying because flying is so much more symbolic than driving.

It all builds to the night when Gus makes his presentation to the town, which is looking for something that will pull them out of the economic spiral they're in. Hazardous waste? All they see is dollar signs - and bigger crowds at their Thanksgiving Day parade.

But in a bit of cross-cutting worthy of The Godfather, even as Gus wins the town's trust and Harris drives Mary to the airport, we see those trucks full of hazardous waste rolling down the rainy highway toward the town. Portent!

Except that, when the trucks crash, as they inevitably must, nothing happens. No death and destruction; not even a single barrel that cracks open.

The result? Gus announces that he has to quit. He's responsible for those trucks - and accidents happen. And he can't handle the stress of that possibility. Mary misses her plane because of the accident on the highway and winds up at a diner eating pie with Harris. The end.

Huh?

Look, I get the parallel between hazardous waste and the legacy of tobacco. But the script does nothing with it - and having Gus decide to quit is, like, anticlimax of the year.

I understand that Foote's specialty was not the grand dramatic flourish but, rather, the small moments between real people that marked his scripts for such films as Tomorrow and The Trip to Bountiful." It's not for all tastes but the guy did what he did.

This film, however, is like a small firecracker that turns out to be a dud. Main Street is as dead as the city it depicts. Durham ought to sue for libel.