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Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Morgan Freeman, Kirsten Dunst and Holly Hunter
Written and Directed by Ed Solomon

IN SHORT: Strictly Art House. [Rated R for language. ]

Sit through 300 movies a year for any given number of years and you, too, can't help but look at a title like "Levity" and think "I bet there isn't anything funny about it" and you would be right. The thought that comes next is: "You can't put these four actors in one setting -- all orchestrated by the writer of vastly superior and entertaining films like Men in Black and the Bill and Ted sagas -- and not get something worth watching. Well, your level of satisfaction with writer/director Ed Solomon's Levity will be greatly dependent upon how fixated you are upon the idea of the superiority of serious, and seriously [emotionally inaccessible] material suited only for the local arthouse.

That being said there is absolutely nothing wrong (or badly composed) about the script. There is nothing to be dissed about the usual superior performances by Morgan Freeman or Billy Bob Thornton or Kristen Dunst or Holly Hunter. Solomon hasn't allowed a much in the way of hope into his story of a lifer who tries to find redemption by returning to the scene of his murderous crime, to do good deeds (whatever they may be) and/or make amends.

Manuel Jordan (Billy Bob Thornton) is the ex who did 23 years for the murder of a convenience store clerk named Abner Easley. One kid killed another kid. Sentenced to Life but deemed to have paid his debt to society, Jordan is released in a nameless city and wanders its streets aimlessly. No job. No goals. no purpose. It's a textbook description of a man doomed to screw up and return to the only familiarity -- jail -- that he knows. He returns to the site of his crime, a SaveMart convenience store, and is greeted by a pay phone ringing off the hook on a public street. Jordan, having nothing else to do, answers it. His dumb luck, the voice on the other end connects him to a home that will help; a community center run by Miles Evans (Morgan Freeman, click for StarTalk). The center's location, across the street from a dance club where rich white kids like Sofia Mellinger (Kirsten Dunst) go to party 'til they drop, is serendipity. The overdosing kidlets in the club don't have far to stumble and they join together with a number of kids from broken homes in this sanctuary in which to crash.

Manuel has little use for Sofia, daughter of a one hit wonder singing star turned addict, but he finds himself assuming more and more of the father role in her relatively parent-free life. More important to the man is expiating his guilt, which brings him into the life of (and a tentative relationship with) Adele Easley (Holly Hunter), not coincidentally the sister of the clerk he popped 23 years earlier. Adele's son Abner is on his own road to the big house and Manuel sticks his nose in, to set the boy straight and, perhaps, set things right personally and emotionally. As best he can, without revealing who he is.

Give Solomon some credit for not taking the easy way out of this situation and writing the expected "big revelation and confrontation" scene you'd expect. Now take away points for the same script, which is devoid of anything remotely approaching optimism. That may be wonderful for the arthouse but it's a grind on the average Joe. Add to that his decision as a director to allow Bill Bob Thornton to strip any kind of emotion out of his performance. That kind of numbing internalization may be totally appropriate for a character locked up for 23 years (as opposed to burning rage, for example) ; it's great for a man who carries his guilt like a cross, but it doesn't give a heck of a lot to the viewing audience. We know from experience that, even in the bleakest situations, there lies some desperate chance for hope. All across the board in Levity, if there is any kind of hope, whether buried in the script or in a nuanced performance, it doesn't even glimmer.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Levity, he would have paid . . .


Get it on the small screen. The performances are all that is called for by a script that is, technically, very well written. The total package, however, is not for us. Those that diss the cineplex and worship at the house of art will adore Levity.

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