Crazy In Alabama

For Antonio Banderas, a native Spaniard, to choose the civil-rights-era South as the setting for his directorial debut sounds misbegotten in concept. But in execution, his Crazy In Alabama is so singularly bizarre that wife Melanie Griffith spends much of her time bickering with a disembodied head in a box. Lurching incongruously from Almodovar-inspired black comedy to movie-of-the-week melodrama, and from women's rights to racial prejudice, Banderas stretches the banner of freedom across two stories that refuse to accommodate each other. In one, Griffith kills her abusive husband and escapes in a stolen Cadillac to pursue her dreams as a TV actress, leaving her six children at her sister's home in backwoods Alabama. In the other, her 12-year-old nephew, Sling Blade's Lucas Black, is forced to confront racism when he witnesses the murder of a black child at a segregated municipal pool. Banderas cross-cuts these threads to no meaningful effect, then abruptly laces them together in a courtroom run by Rod Steiger, who presides with all the dignity of a bucket-clad Marlon Brando in The Island Of Dr. Moreau. Crazy In Alabama brings an outsider's perspective to an important period in American history, and the distance shows, especially when it tackles civil-rights issues. Shooting from a low angle, often in slow motion, Banderas views his (largely nameless) black characters with a solemn reverence that's well-intentioned, yet no less reductive than the bigotry of those opposing them. Though he's more assured with the quirkier elements of Griffith's story—her relationship with her dead husband's talking head is funny, intentional or not—it's far too silly to bear the significance he attaches to it. Crazy In Alabama implies that the struggle for liberty, whether for civil rights or women's rights, is essentially the same fight, but its wildly varied storylines fail to stitch a meaningful connection.

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