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Cold Turkey (2013)
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by Jay Seaver

"The title is sadly accurate."
1 stars

Folks from other continents much watch movies taking place on Thanksgiving and wonder why Americans have given themselves and extra week end of annoying travel to share a relatively bland meal and unresolved issues with family - even if many do end with the family members realizing how much they need each other. It's actually a lot more pleasant than that most of the time, but you certainly wouldn't know that from watching the likes of "Cold Turkey".

This movie's family is the Turners. "Poppy" Jim (Peter Bogdanovich) and his second wife Deborah (Cheryl Hines) are hosting, as usual, their son Jacob (Ashton Holmes), his daughter Lindsay (Sonya Walger) from his first marriage, spouses Missy (Amy Ferguson) & TJ (Ross Partridge), and Lindsay's kids. This year, estranged daughter Nina (Alicia Witt) is making the trip for the first time in fifteen years, though she and her boyfriend Hank (Wilson Bethel) have an ulterior motive - but then, so do Lindsay and Jacob.

Some movies about family conflicts like to show them as simmering just under the surface before they explode, but to watch the Turners is not just to find their being related as unlikely (facial resemblance doesn't seem to have been a huge factor in casting) but to wonder if any members of this clan actually like each other. They're a distant, miserable bunch, and there's no indication of how the shambling alcoholic that Jim is could ever have ever inspired the sort of affection that has his kids calling him "Poppy" into adulthood. It livens up a bit when Nina arrives, but adding unbalanced and inappropriate to the mix just makes things less boring; it doesn't give the audience much reason to actually invest in the characters.

The cast gives it a shot, although with Bogdanovich anchoring the movie it's something of an uphill battle. The director and film historian has had some good moments in front of the camera in the past, but here he's just bland beyond the point of the character being reserved or ashamed, limping through every scene like he's got no idea what makes Poppy tick. Alicia Witt is at least active as Nina; in another movie this performance would be very funny or at least get a sad desperation across; here it's somewhere between amusing and misplaced. Ashton Holmes and Sonya Wagner do at least have moments of legitimate desperation and become natural as brother and sister in some of the in-between scenes, while Cheyrl Hines is fair in her part.

The script they're given by director Will Slocombe is a real mess, though. There's just not enough happening through much of the movie, and the characters don't argue in interesting ways. The story advances because of people doing things that are very difficult to believe, and there's also a quite bothersome lack of proportion to some elements of the storyline. The things motivating Nina and Lindsay are kind of huge deals, but Slocombe treats them as secondary to them wanting some money. He also has trouble giving his location character, and the whole thing is topped off with a score by William C. White presumably meant to be ironically jaunty but instead functioning as a minor sort of water torture.

Fortunately, the vast majority of Thanksgivings aren't like this. but at least when they are, there's usually at least some real affection for one's family that makes it worthwhile. On the other hand, there's no particular reason to spend a Thanksgiving with these Turners, even if the experience can be compacted down to an hour and a half.

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originally posted: 11/29/13 14:27:32
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