D+

It might be hard to believe, but the sight of Edward Norton in cornrows is actually one of the least ludicrous things youll see in Stone. Director John Currans melodrama is so awesomely overripe, so cataclysmically misjudged at every turn, that it eventually inspires a strange fascination. By the end, I couldnt take my eyes off the screen for wondering what wrong choice could possibly come next.

The setup is the stuff of pure pulp. Norton stars as a greasy gangbanger, currently serving year number eight of the 15 he was sentenced as an accessory to the murder of his grandparents. (Yes, you read that righthis grandparents.) Robert De Niro plays his stubborn parole officer, who of course happens to be one month away from retirement. In their first interview, Norton utilizes a breathtaking amount of unconvincing ghetto slang to graphically describe his wifes sexual appetite to the stuffy old man, setting a honey trap thats bound to spring the moment Milla Jovovich sashays onscreen.

These two are obviously aiming to lure De Niros constipated churchgoer into some conduct unbecoming of an officer, which will no doubt influence his report for the parole board. Already, the logic strikes me as suspect. Lets just say you ended up sleeping with a dangerous convicts wifewouldnt it be in your best interest to make sure the guy stays behind bars for as long as humanly possible?

Nonetheless, it isnt long before Jovovich is seated across from De Niro at a picnic table in short-shorts, suggestively sucking on hard-boiled eggs while Currans camera caresses those legs that stretch halfway up her back. But surprisingly, if anyone escapes Stone without embarrassment, its Jovovicha remarkable physical actress who has been stranded for so long in schlock that shes learned to make the most of movement. Jovovich also comes off quite sprightly playing against the lone grumpy facial expression Robert De Niro has been passing off as a performance for the past decade.

You would think that after that one wretched scene in Steven Spielbergs otherwise astonishing Munich, directors everywhere would have realized that gruesome slayings crosscut with explicit sex scenes are two great tastes that most decidedly do not taste great together. Alas, Curran juxtaposes the nasty spectacle of Milla Jovovich astride Robert De Niro with an even nastier prison shivving, prompting snickers and inevitable penetration jokes from the peanut gallery.

While witnessing the murder, Norton has some sort of bizarre epiphany, prompting him to join a wacky made-up religion that seems to be based on cosmic audio frequencies, and thats when Angus MacLachlans screenplay pretty much loses its damn mind.

Stone flips from lurid noir to spiritual inquisition, pontificating endlessly about religion and its role in society. In case were in any danger of missing the point, De Niro is never not listening to Christian talk radio, and the fire-and-brimstone hosts are always conveniently discussing a subject related to whatever just happened in the previous scene. Nortons embrace of aural Zen gobbledygook has him aspiring to become a human tuning fork. Im not sure what that means, but at least he loses the cornrows. He also stops talking like Eminem and lapses into breathy, hayseed philosophizing that sounds like a parody of the narration in Terrence Malick films. Curran shoots this hokum almost exclusively in background-flattening telephoto close-ups that asphyxiate the frame.

Much ado is made about the De Niro characters history of violence, yet the closest our lazy legend can come to volatility is muttering the c-word under his breath at work. He and his wife (Frances Conroy) spend an inordinate amount of screen time reading the Bible, guzzling whiskey and staring into the middle distance. When the fires of Hell finally make an appearance, theyre hardly enough to shake off the torpor.

MacLachlan and Curran obviously have a lot on their minds regarding sin and redemption. But whatever Stone actually has to say about such matters remains beyond me.

Director: John Curran

Starring: Robert De Niro, Milla Jovovich, Edward Norton

Running time: 105 minutes

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