Eric D. Snider

Northfork

I worry about the Polish Brothers, Michael and Mark. They came on the scene in 1999 with their indie hit "Twin Falls Idaho," in which they played conjoined twins who both fall in love with the same prostitute. That film, like all great films, told a story that was at once unusual and universal -- that is, the specifics were unlikely to happen in real life to the average viewer, but the themes and ideas were relatable to anyone.

Next came "Jackpot" (2001), once again directed by Michael and written by both. This one rather unsuccessfully told of two men traveling the country in search of karaoke fame. Another odd situation, but this time, the universals didn't quite come through.

And now we have "Northfork," which suggests "Jackpot" was a harbinger of things to come, and not merely a sophomore slump. For "Northfork" has yet another fantastically unusual premise, but completely fails to make it mean anything to us.

The year is 1955, and the residents of Northfork, Mont., are being relocated. A dam is about to be built, and the town will soon be under water as a result. Most of the locals have accepted their fate, moved to a nearby community, and look forward to the recreation the new lake will bring them. But a few holdouts remain, and a relocation team consisting of six men dressed in black is dispatched to persuade them to either move or learn to swim.

Meanwhile, there is a sick child named Irwin (Duel Farnes) who lies in bed under the care of Father Harlan (Nick Nolte), the town's pastor. Irwin has extended visitations with a quartet of guardian angels, sort of, played by Daryl Hannah, Robin Sachs, Ben Foster and Anthony Edwards, and with character names like Cup of Tea and Flower Hercules. They are looking for something, and maybe the boy knows the answer.

The relocation team is led by a father and son played by James Woods and Mark Polish. They, like the rest of the people who populate the film, speak in deadpan. I do not recall any character even raising his voice. When there is humor -- and it does pop up occasionally -- you are liable to miss it, so dry is the delivery in every instance.

The Polishes have filled the story with religious symbolism and parallels, from the Flood to the angels to the contrast between the men in black and the pastor, who of course also dresses in black. What the Polishes have not done, however, is corral all their ideas into something coherent, or even emotionally stirring. It plays out, dreamlike, often beautifully shot and visually appealing, but seemingly without purpose. Even the actors, good though they are, seem adrift in the obtuse, meandering storytelling.

And so I worry about Mark and Michael. "Twin Falls Idaho" was one of my favorite films of 1999 (a very good year for film, you'll recall), but "Jackpot" and now "Northfork" make me fear their debut was a fluke. I hope they will prove me wrong.

Grade: C-

Rated PG-13, some mild profanity, some mild sexuality

1 hr., 43 min.

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