The pieces just don't fit in dramatically bereft 'Safelight'

  • Charles (Evan Peters) befriends a truck stop hooker (Juno Temple) in the arid drama "Safelight."

    Charles (Evan Peters) befriends a truck stop hooker (Juno Temple) in the arid drama "Safelight."

 
 
Updated 7/16/2015 11:13 AM

Mini-review: 'Safelight'

Charles, a southern California high school kid during the early '80s, walks with a distinct limp. Bullies call him "Cripple," because that's how imaginative they are.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Beset by low self-esteem, mommy abandonment issues and the shell-of-a-Vietnam-veteran dad (Jason Beghe), Charles (Evan Peters) works a dusty old truck stop with saucy, had-it-with-men Peg (Christine Lahti) who mothers him.

When Charles sees a psychotic pimp named Skid (Kevin Alejandro) trying to rape his waiflike prostitute Vickie (Juno Temple) at the gas pumps, he whips out a baseball bat and some uncommon courage to chase him away.

The rest of writer-director Tony Aloupis' languorously paced drama can't match the relatively tepid dramatic level of this opening.

Charles and Vickie begin a platonic friendship. She drives a 1980s sports car that "Starsky and Hutch" would adore while helping Charles photograph old southern California lighthouses for a school project.

They talk about their lives. Charles cherishes moments with his fading father, and glimpses what happiness must be on the dance floor with Peg and Vickie. Even so, this movie packs all the dramatic crackle of soggy popcorn.

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It doesn't help that Peters and Temple possess the chemistry of outdated Advil tablets. Their characters aren't particularly interesting, and Aloupis is more fascinated with California lighthouses than them anyway. (There's not even a Freudian undertone here.)

By the time twitchy psycho Skid returns -- almost on schedule for some badly needed third-act menacing -- "Safelight" would be better titled "Lightweight."

"Safelight" opens at the South Barrington 30. Rated R for language. 84 minutes. ★

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