Desert Blue

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Desert Blue

A 60-foot ice-cream cone, an ocean park built in the California desert, and an overturned tanker truck filled with toxic soda ingredients are just some of the ridiculous reasons for bringing a warm, appealing cast of characters together in Desert Blue. Though its synopsis reads like a practical joke or a biting parody of slight, overly quirky independent films (sadly, it's neither), Morgan J. Freeman's disarming, agreeably minor slice-of-life transcends its shaggy-dog trappings. Set in the sort of dusty, sparsely populated Western hick town that could only spring from an urban filmmaker's imagination, Desert Blue opens with pop-culture professor John Heard and his daughter, spoiled TV star Kate Hudson, visiting its main attraction, the world's largest ice-cream cone. Their stay is extended when an Empire Cola truck spills its "secret formula" on the highway and the FBI quarantines the town to protect the outside world from contamination. Resistant at first, Hudson falls in with a motley group of teenagers—all ably played by Brendan Sexton III, Christina Ricci, Casey Affleck, Sara Gilbert, Isidra Vega, and Ethan Suplee—and eventually warms to the town's modest charms. There's no accounting for why Freeman needed such an outlandish premise to stage what is essentially a laid-back dramedy about the pleasures of aimlessness. The best scenes are the ones in which nothing is at stake, such as simple, authentically casual teenage-banter sessions around a bonfire or over bleeping games of Galaga. But Freeman's numerous story contrivances frequently intrude on the languorous mood. Was he really that married to a maudlin subplot involving an alcoholic FBI agent? Or the thrilling resolution of an insurance claim on a burned-down motel? For all the careful detail Freeman invests in his characters, Desert Blue lacks assurance, foisting ludicrous plot points on a movie that could have gotten by with none at all.