Kristen Stewart, her sexuality so bound up in vampire-induced abstinence in the "Twilight" films, makes up for lost time in "Welcome to the Rileys."
When we first see her, she's strutting on the catwalk of a New Orleans strip club, and soon thereafter she's pawing James Gandolfini in a "champagne room," explaining her rates in a rush of vulgarity.
How these characters ended up in such a place and where they go from there is the story of "Welcome to the Rileys." It was directed by Jake Scott, a music video director who, despite being the son of action helmer Tony Scott, shows a preference for slow pacing and deliberate seriousness.
The film opens on a burning car, which we later learn was the tragic fate of the 15-year-old daughter to Doug (Gandolfini) and Lois Riley (Melissa Leo). Years later, they're still locked in mourning, their daughter's room neatly preserved.
Lois is afraid to even leave their suburban Indianapolis home. Doug has moved on enough to have an affair with a Pancake House waitress (Eisa Davis), but she, too, dies suddenly. He's full of melancholy, spending nights smoking cigarettes in his garage.
He runs a wholesale plumbing business. During a business conference in New Orleans, he tells a colleague: "No surprises, that's my motto," but it's clear he doesn't mean it. He's gritting his teeth, disgusted by his life's stasis.
Doug abandons the conference and lands in the strip bar where he encounters Mallory (Stewart). He's not interested in sex, just a hole to forget himself in. Thinking he's a cop, she turns him out, only to reassess later when she sees him in the diner across the street.
He drives her home, a dilapidated apartment without electricity, and stays the night. He refuses her aggressive entreaties, and learning that she's a 16-year-old runaway, decides to move in and take care of her.
"Sugar daddy," she calls him at first, but Doug quickly takes a plainly paternal role. He teaches her basic things, like how to make a bed, and fines her for cursing. He calls his wife and tells her he might not be coming home again.
The scenes between Doug and Mallory are the best thing in "Welcome to the Rileys," which was written by Ken Hixon. Gandolfini, with a believable and not overstated Southern accent, plays reformer. Stewart, in what may be her best performance yet, warms to his caring while vacillating between hard rage.
She's all elbows, shifty eyes and a nest of hair. Stewart has the habit of biting her bottom lip, a gesture she should be careful not to overuse. But she's a captivating blend of fragility and strength. It's obvious that Doug's attempts to tame her can only partially succeed.
Lois, meanwhile, is awakening. She summons the courage to not only leave the house, but drive to New Orleans. Leo, another fine actor, comes to life with her character, shedding makeup and rigidity.
But Lois also upsets the wonderful dynamic between Doug and Mallory, and the final third of "Welcome to the Rileys" loses its equilibrium.
The fine acting (when will a movie rise to Gandolfini's level like David Chase's "The Sopranos" did?) and Scott's slow, natural build (scored with soft piano by Marc Streitenfeld) hides the film's outlandish underpinnings. But those are laid bare late in the movie, when the save-the-prostitute-with-a-golden-heart cliche treads too obviously.
Scott has the good sense not to bring everything to a neat conclusion. After all, this is really the Rileys' movie, and one about rebirth and letting go of demons.