Picks and Pans Review: Elizabethtown

updated 10/24/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/24/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin

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How many times did your junior high school English teacher tell you to pick a theme and stick to it when writing? Cameron Crowe must not have been listening, or he temporarily forgot the advice. While he is a gifted writer-director (Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous), his latest movie is a meandering mishmash, its disparate characters and plot-lines adding up to a self-indulgent, shapeless mound of sentimental goo.

The film's protagonist, Drew Baylor (Bloom), is a shoe designer in Oregon whose futuristic sneaker has proven a colossal $1 billion bomb, causing him to consider suicide. Just as he's about to off himself, his father dies and Drew heads to Elizabethtown, Ky., to claim the body. Over the next week, helped by a gabby flight attendant (Dunst), darned if Drew doesn't learn that life, despite its crazy ups and downs, is worth living after all.

Elizabethtown tries to tell too many stories—Drew deals with failure and grief, falls in love, bonds with relatives, remembers Dad, manages Mom (Sarandon)—short-shrifting them all. Bloom, with a luminous, Errol Flynn-like beauty, remains too passive for one to care whether he finds happiness. Dunst is sexy and warm in her most adult role yet, but her character's nonstop chirpiness eventually proves grating. (PG-13)

THRILLER

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