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‘Georgia Rule’ No. 1: Skip this flick

Characters feel artificial and the story of three generations is contrived. By John Hartl

Jane Fonda’s new comeback vehicle, “Georgia Rule,” isn’t the non-stop freak show that 2005’s “Monster-in-Law” turned out to be. But the characters are just as artificial and hard to believe.

While they’re always saying something shocking and sometimes even witty, the smart cracks don’t sound like conversation. The one-liners and punch lines are just jokes that seem stranded in a narrative format.

Not enough dots are connected — especially when Fonda’s strictly old-fashioned character, Georgia, is trading insults with her alcoholic daughter, Lilly (Felicity Huffman), or her troubled granddaughter, Rachel (Lindsay Lohan) — to form a consistent character interaction. And when the running time approaches two hours, it’s hard for an audience not to feel jerked around.

The trouble begins in the earliest scenes, as Rachel, an aggressively rebellious California teenager, is driven to her grandmother’s Idaho home to cool out. Lilly is doing the driving (Rachel has a car-crash history), and she’s also delivering enough unwanted parental advice to propel Rachel right out of the car.

With the help of a Mormon hunk (Garrett Hedlund) and a widowed veterinarian (Dermot Mulroney), the stranded Rachel ends up on the steps of her grandmother’s house. Each woman immediately recognizes an uncompromising spirit in the other. In no time, they’re getting to know each other’s limits and pushing them.

When Rachel’s R-rated and frequently blasphemous language offends Georgia, the grandmother declares one of her “Georgia Rules,” which usually involve placing a bar of soap where a toothbrush should be. Georgia is especially adamant about the use of offensive language, though she’s not above spouting a profanity recently associated with Dick Cheney.

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It’s fun to watch Fonda and Lohan deliver these taunts, but the actors are forced to do a lot of glossing over to make them credible. In the film’s second half, Rachel appears to become briefly unhinged, as she accuses her stepfather (Cary Elwes), a wealthy lawyer, of molesting her when she was 12.

Is she telling the truth, or is she making it up as she goes along? We know she’s a talented manipulator who deliberately messes with people in order to get a reaction. She puts Mulroney’s character in an apparently compromising position more than once, she performs oral sex on the virginal Mormon, and she even gets a sexual reaction from a pre-adolescent boy.

But would she tell a lie that could ruin her parents’ marriage? It’s a question that screenwriter Mark Andrus (“As Good as It Gets”) and director Garry Marshall (“Pretty Woman”) can’t stop asking as the film builds to a climactic revelation. Unfortunately, by the time the answer is delivered, it’s impossible to care.

In spite of fine work by several of the actors, a kind of fatigue sets in. It comes partly from the sense of exasperation we’re made to feel about Rachel, who is always asking for (and arranging) trouble. But the exasperation also extends to the filmmakers, who have ultimately created little more than a contrivance intended to pass the time.