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Lightning Bug (2004)

Director: Robert Hall
Starring: Brett Harrison, Laura Prepon, Ashley Laurence, Kevin Gage
Rated R Running time: 97 minutes

Being a horror film-loving teenage special effects artist sucks when you're stuck living in a crappy little Southern town. Green Groves has big dreams of moving to Hollywood and becoming an effects pro, but gets nothing but headaches from the narrow-minded townsfolk who consider his hobby to be "satanic". Nor does he get much encouragement at home, where he lives in a tiny trailer with his younger brother, his haggard mom (Ashley Laurence, HELLRAISER), and her booze-guzzling A-hole boyfriend, Earl (Kevin Gage, LAID TO REST). His life generally sucks, until one day an attractive girl rolls into town who doesn't think Green is a weirdo like everyone else in town does. Turns out that Angevin (Laura Prepon) is a bit of a social outcast herself, having trekked off to the big city and gotten involved with "those movies", if you know what I mean. So the two hang out, watch horror flicks, do all the things teenage lovebirds are supposed to do. Green gets the opportunity to strut his stuff when he lands the gig of designing the spook house for the town's Fall festivities. Everything seems great until a crew of mean old Bible-beaters, led by Angevin's mother, are determined to ruin Green's big moment, not to mention the fact that the drunken Ray's behavior grows increasingly violent. Green is hell-bent on leaving all these headaches behind, but Angevin has tasted Hollywood life before, and wants no part of it. What's a teenage FX genius to do?

Loose ends abound in Robert Hall's autobiographical coming-of-age tale, with many plot points being started and never finished. You almost get the impression that either chunks of the film were left on the cutting room floor, or that first-time director Hall bit off more than he could chew. Harrison is good as the film's lead, and Prepon does a fine job of looking sultry, but most of the other cast members are little more than the same cartoonish stereotypes of country folk that you've been seeing for years. The film takes on a pretty dark tone in the final act, which doesn't mesh well with the Afterschool Special-vibe that the first half is drenched in. Hall might be a bit deficient in focused storytelling ability, but he makes up for it with heart - - which ought to count for something in this mean old world. Lightning Bug was obviously a labor of love for the effects-guy-turned-director, and there are moments where the film affects a certain charm. In the end, though, the glaring story problems are too much for all the best intentions in the world to overcome, leaving Lightning Bug a good-natured, but uneven, first effort.

2.5 out of 5.

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