Picks and Pans Review: Digging to China

updated 09/21/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/21/1998 01:00AM

Kevin Bacon, Mary Stuart Masterson, Evan Rachel Wood

Timothy Hutton, who won an Oscar as the sensitive boy swamped by tragedy in Ordinary People in 1981, makes his directorial debut with the story of a sensitive girl similarly swamped. Ten-year-old Harriet (10-year-old Wood), whose mother runs a motor lodge in Pennsylvania in the early '60s, is already predisposed to run away from a town that considers her odd. She befriends a mentally handicapped man (Bacon) stopping off at the lodge with his mother en route to being deposited in a home. Shaken by a death in the family and unexpected news from her sister (Masterson), she and her new friend flee into the forest.

It's not impossible to make something fresh out of this sort of sad-idyllic tale of girlhood. Fly Away Home did, with its geese and its beautiful cinematography. Ever After, a surprise hit of the summer, adds psychological realism to Cinderella. But China is seldom better than precious and, once the friends pretend-wed out in the woods, just weird. And other than Marian Seldes, as Bacon's tense, careworn mother, the performances aren't of note. (PG)—T.G.

Bottom Line: Doesn't quite dig its way to daylight

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