THE ORANGES (R)
1 star out of 4
Considering the combined savvy of five of its six principals, it's amazing so many well-seasoned and highly talented performers would sign on to make something as embarrassingly bad as "The Oranges." Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Allison Janney and Oliver Platt have all been around long enough to recognize a flop when they see it. Only Leighton Meester -- the relative puppy in the mix -- deserves a pass. Everyone should have known better.
Set in West Orange, New Jersey (hence the title), "The Oranges" is "Blame it on Rio" by way of "The Graduate" with unfunny humor and awkward drama. With the possible exception of Terry (played by Platt), every character is broadly overwritten, underdeveloped and crushingly boring and/or unlikable.
The premise starts off hum-drum as the just-out-of-college Nina (Meester) returns home from California after being jilted by a slacker fiancee she caught cheating on her. Her dad Terry and mother Carol (Janney) are thrilled with her arrival and in no time flat, Carol tries to set her up with Toby (Adam Brody), the son of their best-friend neighbors David (Laurie) and Paige (Keener). Toby's sister (also the narrator) Vanessa (Alia Shawkat) thoroughly despises Nina, due to a misconstrued teen boyfriend-stealing incident.
The plot shifts into decidedly uncomfortable territory when Nina (20ish) and David (50ish) share a late-night kissy-face encounter and soon become an item. Initially leery of what everyone will think (the worst) the May-December couple tries to carry on as if what they're doing is totally normal.
In addition to the Nina-being-cheated-on thing, the filmmakers make it clear early on that David and Paige are on the outs so his falling for a woman/child less than half his age will be somehow justifiable. Even within the context of a movie, no AARP-aged man sleeping with his neighbor's just-past-teenage daughter can be scripted to be funny, movingly dramatic or erotic in a positive way. If it's not sick and unsellable, it comes real close.
In retrospect, the film could have been less of a disaster had screenwriters Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss gone full-tilt dramatically tragic (think "Damage" or the remake of "Lolita," both starring Jeremy Irons) or drenched it in pitch-black humor or farce. Instead longtime TV director Julian Farino turns his first feature into a putrid Fox series that gets cancelled after six episodes.
Unlike his "House" character, sporting all kinds of bravura and bluster, Laurie takes on the timid persona of his "Stuart Little" milquetoast father character. Janney delivers something of a cross between "West Wing" and "American Beauty," while Platt remains perplexingly bemused for the duration. Keener -- always potent with her barbed acid tongue -- takes it to newfound extremes here and even though Paige has been summarily dumped, we feel no sympathy for her. The last act finds her pulling off a stunt most 14-year-old boys would consider stupid and extreme.
The final insult comes with a where-are-they-now epilogue where all but one character goes back to the same life before the incident bringing the story almost back to where it started. Rarely has such potentially dangerous and taboo subject matter been as blatantly mishandled as it is in "The Oranges." (ATO)