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'Lymelife' is a humorless tale of '80s suburbia

"Lymelife" (R)

2 stars out of 4

Imagine a shortened, '80s version of "The Ice Storm" or "American Beauty" without a sense of humor and you'll have "Lymelife." Suburban dysfunction has never been a niche genre that caused much of a stir; most people don't go to the movies to get depressed. However, downbeat is fine if it's original and/or done well. That's certainly not the case here.

Even though it sports a superb cast, "Lymelife" is the type of movie where plot and story development are everything and one that is usually beyond the abilities of first-time filmmakers such as director Derick Martini and his co-writer brother Steven.

Angst and dystopia reign supreme for two Long Island families whose assorted members are falling in or out of love, having meaningless affairs or are in the process of dying. Land developer Mickey Bartlett (Alec Baldwin) is more than a good provider but a lousy husband to his wife Brenda (Jill Hennessey) and an even worse role model for sons Jimmy and Scott (Kieran and Rory Culkin.)

Jimmy's decided to escape by enlisting in the Army and heading off to the Falkland Islands. He masks his disdain for his parents' sham marriage with flip sarcasm, but is weary of the toll it's taking on Scott. An introverted teen who often fantasizes in front of the mirror, Scott can't get the hint that the bold and fearless Adrianna Bragg (Emma Roberts) really digs him.

Adrianna's shrewish mother, Melissa (Cynthia Nixon), is Mickey's secretary who, in more ways than one, buries herself in her work to escape the company of her husband, Charlie (Timothy Hutton). Recently infected with Lyme disease, Charlie is out of work, perpetually rundown and has a strange affinity for deer meat. Mickey thinks Charlie's faking his illness and Charlie knows more than he lets on.

Despite their collective strong renderings, the four adult performers are left floundering thanks to the stilted, rote and unimaginative things the Martinis have them do. They drink a bunch, yell and scream a lot more and in the few moments of silence, exchange terse glances.

Kieran Culkin is able to accomplish much with his limited screen time and could prove to be an imposing villain in another movie with stronger material. Kieran's real-life brother Rory is given the harder task, but still impressively captures the spirit of the "isolated teen" character without turning it into a maudlin cliche.

The biggest and most welcome surprise comes from Roberts. Regulated most of her young career to playing goody two-shoes types, she really makes a stretch here with the acid-tongued, not-quite bad girl Amanda. Getting as risque as she possibly can without stumbling into gross caricature, Roberts demonstrates the same kind of spunk that propelled her Aunt Julia to superstardom. (A note to parents: as much as your pre-teen Emma fan child begs you, don't even think about letting them see this adult-only movie).

Considering it was Baldwin and Martin Scorsese who produced their film, the Martinis must have real talent but need to regroup before making a follow-up. Do something more original, infuse at least a little humor into it and above all things - come up with an ending that doesn't completely frustrate the audience. (Screen Media Films)