Sundance giveth, and it taketh away. One of the most talked-about debuts at that festival in 1997 was Morgan J. Freeman’s “Hurricane Streets,” a tough-minded but poignant drama about a kid trying to eke out a way to survive. The following year, he made the little-seen “Desert Blue” — most notable for featuring early appearances by Peter Sarsgaard, Kate Hudson and Casey Affleck — and since then his résumé has been packed mostly with episodic TV and direct-to-DVD features.
And now, sadly, he returns to theaters with “Homecoming,” a ludicrous and tawdry teen thriller that rehashes “Misery” for audiences who wanted to see that Kathy Bates-James Caan movie only with two hot babes instead.
Mike (Matt Long, “Jack and Bobby”) and Shelby (Mischa Barton, “The O.C.”) were, in the words of Billy Joel, “the popular steadies and the king and the queen of the prom” at the end of their senior year. But now it’s four months later, and while Mike has been off at Northwestern on a football scholarship, former cheerleader Shelby has been stuck at home, caring for her ailing mother and trying to keep the family bowling alley open.
Mike has broken up with Shelby, but that fact doesn’t seem to register with her until Mike returns for homecoming with new girlfriend Elizabeth (Jessica Stroup, “90210”). Shelby puts on a game face and treats Elizabeth to some tequila shooters, which get Elizabeth drunk enough to want to crash at a local motel before meeting Mike’s parents. She gets turned away and, while walking down a local road, gets hit by a truck driven by a drunk and weepy Shelby.
Armed with all the medical doo-hickeys she’d been using to tend to her mother before she died, Shelby keeps the injured Elizabeth prisoner, inflicting pain on the wounded girl while meeting with Mike (who thinks Elizabeth got cold feet and took off) in the hopes of getting him back.
You can pretty much tell where this is all going, and the familiarity wouldn’t be so bad if this cast could have some fun with all the clichés. Alas, these CW stars pout and frown and yell, while lumbering and plodding through the Stephen King/Rob Reiner playbook. The three leads are cute, but each is about as deep as the January issue of Vogue.
As for Freeman’s direction, it’s workmanlike at best; there’s no evidence here of a talented filmmaker trying to make the most of bad material. Instead, it’s the kind of effective paint-by-numbers sort of work you’d see on old cop shows.
Younger filmgoers who actually watch these actors on TV might someday embrace “Homecoming” for its campy moments — watching Mischa Barton attempt to channel Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” is admittedly good for a few laughs — but most will find this a big snooze. If you’re really in the mood for a homecoming movie, rent “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion” instead.
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