- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

Love means never having to say, “Take your meds.” “Stateside,” based on writer/director Reverge Anselmo’s own youth, depicts a ridiculous romance between a Marine and a schizophrenic actress who clearly needs as much medication as her body will allow.

The films starts with some promise, then turns into the equivalent of those mentally challenged romances in which television once trafficked.

You know, the ones where the boy character wore his shirt buttoned incorrectly and the girl sported the requisite bad haircut to denote her mental deficiencies.

In “Stateside,” it’s “She’s All That’s” Rachael Leigh Cook who gets the bad ‘do.

She plays Dori, a famous actress/singer who gets committed to a state facility after a nervous breakdown.

Along comes spoiled rich kid Mark (Jonathan Tucker), who is headed into the Marines to duck responsibility for a drunken car crash that almost killed his school’s headmaster (Ed Begley Jr., doing his best Father Flanagan impersonation).

Mark and Dori meet when he sprays her with an errant water fountain stream. The two barely speak, but their eyes lock long enough for sparks to arc between them. It’s the umpteenth variation of the “meet cute” convention — a cinematic device that needs to be retired. (It’s time for a screen couple that is introduced through mutual friends or one that meets at a singles mixer and exchanges phone numbers.)

Whenever Mark gets time away from Marine Corps training, where a thick-necked Val Kilmer tortures him for dodging justice, he rushes back to see Dori.

Perhaps Mr. Kilmer’s beatings bludgeoned the common sense right out of Mark. He doesn’t acknowledge her schizophrenia, which in movie terms means she speaks in really bad poetry.

No matter. He’s in love despite her occasional need for restraints.

Along for the embarrassment are Joe Mantegna, Carrie Fisher and Diane Verona, none of whom deserve this stain on their resume. By the time Penny Marshall shows up as a world-weary nurse, the giggles just won’t stay down.

“Stateside” almost achieves “Showgirls”-level awfulness in its final reel, that terrain where a film is so bad it becomes irresistible. In the end, though, it falls short, remaining all too resistible.

Mr. Tucker’s character, supposedly the sane one, is all over the map emotionally. He staggers from Marine Corps discipline to feckless teen, none of which is believably portrayed. Mr. Tucker acts with a barely contained grin on his face, like a preteen who heard a dirty joke and has just got to tell someone before he bursts.

Miss Cook is forced to appear crazy while simultaneously looking adorable. She finds a middle ground between the two — and looks ridiculous.

Mr. Anselmo appears hopelessly overmatched in both his writing and directing duties. At one point, he films Mark entering a movie theater in slow motion, as if he’d found the perfect visual correlative for the gravity of the emotions weighing on the character even in a light interlude.

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