R (strong language, sexual content, nudity, drug use, bloody images); 122 min.
Billy Bob Thornton was an actor who used his distinctive voice as a screenwriter to kick-start his movie career. But as the acting jobs piled up, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Sling Blade and A Family Thing gave up writing and directing, content to be a hired-gun actor.
Jayne Mansfields Car, his first co-writing/directing job in more than a decade, is full of just the sort of characters Thornton has made his screen trademark menacing Southern eccentrics. Its too long and wildly uneven. But its a welcome return for one of the cinemas few regional voices.
In 1969 Morrison, Ala., the Caldwells are a family divided. Conservative patriarch Jim (Robert Duvall) lords over the familys antebellum estate, where his word is law. A World War I vet and a bit of a brute, he has no patience for his World War II vet son Carroll (Kevin Bacon) who has, in his 40s, gone hippie and leads the tiny protests against the Vietnam War.
But Skip (Billy Bob Thornton), like Carroll a veteran of WWII, seems to share Carrolls point of view about the pointless war now going on.
And theyre all tested when their long-absent mom, who ran off to England and married a Brit, dies. She wanted to be buried at home.
Her English family her widowed husband (John Hurt) and his brooding son (Ray Stevenson) and wild daughter Camilla (Frances OConnor) accompany the body.
Jayne Mansfields Car the title comes from the vehicle the blonde bombshell actress was killed in is melodramatic hokum, with just enough false moments to stagger the viewer. But this tale of generations fumbling to connect has such a distinct voice and tone that you almost wish the acting work would dry up enough for Thornton to let his freak-film flag fly more often.
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Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers