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MOVIE REVIEW: 'At Middleton' has no direction, foundation

At Middleton

(PG-13)

1 1/2 out of 4 stars

In the first half of the 1990s (from “The Godfather III” through “Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead”), Andy Garcia was poised for greatness, but that ship has long since sailed.

From 2006 to 2009 (“The Departed” until “Up in the Air”), Vera Farmiga was the go-to supporting actress with a full package (brains, talent, beauty) just waiting for the right leading role to throw her into A-list territory. Her ship is still at the dock with the engine idling.

If it hadn’t come out on the heels of a handful of superb romantic comedies from last year targeted to the over-40 crowd, “At Middleton” might have — if not worked — at least felt more authentic and original. With baby boomers now hitting retirement age at a clip of about 2,000 per day, the market for smart romance movies is only going to get bigger, but “At Middleton” is not what they’re going to want to see. It feels more like a sitcom college farce with two oil-and-water co-leads.

George (Garcia) is a heart surgeon fond of bow ties and not driving into but backing his SUV into parking spaces. He is escorting his son Conrad (Spencer Lofranco) on a college orientation tour that also includes Edith (Farmiga), a “free spirit” high-end children’s furniture retailer. Edith is there with her daughter Audrey (Farmiga’s real life sister Taissa — which is kind of creepy and awkward) and after a very forced meet-cute moment, the two parents begin bickering and embarrassing the daylights out of their respective offspring.

While Conrad is only going through the motions and has no idea what he wants to study, Audrey is there only for the chance to work closely with a quasi-literary legend (Tom Skerritt). This subplot bears a strong resemblance to that of the Ron Howard’s and Richard Dreyfuss’ characters in “American Graffiti,” but is too undercooked and late-in-arriving to make any kind of impact.

It becomes imminently clear early on that the college campus setting is just a metaphor for Edith and George’s missed life opportunities and respective laundry list of regrets. At one point after they’ve long become separated from their kids and the tour, Edith and George stumble into an improvisational acting class where they invite themselves in, shed their metaphorical skins, bare their souls, spill their guts all over the place and rain down crocodile tears via faux-method chops. It is all so very forced, calculated, unimpressive and embarrassing to watch.

First-time feature director Adam Rodgers and his co-writer Glen German concoct a connect-the-dots screenplay that takes the beaten path most traveled with the least possible resistance. With the exception of a single scene where George and Edith toke on a bong with two resident students, there’s not one scene that doesn’t feel like it’s been cut and pasted from another college campus-based comedy or impending middle age/soon-to-be empty nest production.

In the end, “At Middleton” is a planned early winter release (never a good sign) from a C-grade studio that grasps for a box full of straws and only ends up snaring a couple of them. Nobody of college age, retirement age or any age inbetween is going to be able to relate to what goes down, mostly because what goes down never, ever happens in the real world. It is a movie with no direction or foundation trying to appeal to an audience that doesn’t exist. Look for it to be available as a web-based download and/or a $1 Redbox rental before the spring equinox and even then it will be over-priced. (Anchor Bay)