In 1987, Tim Hunter directed The River's Edge, an eerie, disturbing look at a group of teenagers in the Pacific Northwest who respond to the murder of one of their peers with an almost surreal indifference. In the 11 years since then, Hunter has worked largely in television, directing episodes of Homicide, Twin Peaks, and Chicago Hope, as well as the historic pilot episode of Beverly Hills 90210. Hunter returns to familiar thematic territory with The Maker, the story of a confused, sullen teenager (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) who's torn between following the straight-and-narrow path laid out for him by his staid adopted parents or joining his charismatic brother (Matthew Modine) in a series of risky criminal endeavors. Though The Maker aims for mythic resonance in its tale of a young man torn between good and evil, it's mostly just pretentious. Rand Ravich's screenplay is undeniably ambitious, but it's just as undeniably misguided; he seems to have learned how to write for teenagers by buying a handbook instructing him that youngsters nowadays speak only in hip pop-culture references and entertain themselves solely through drug use and petty crime. Likewise, almost all the characters in The Maker ring false, from Fairuza Balk's plucky lesbian sidekick to Modine's uncharismatic con man, while a subplot involving Meyer's crush on a pretty young police officer (Mary-Louise Parker) is as implausible as it is uninvolving. The performances by Balk and Parker aren't that bad, really; it's just that they've both been given characters that are impossible to play. The only actor who rises above the muck is the ever-reliable Michael Madsen, who, though only in the film for about 10 minutes, still steals it by underplaying his usual tough-guy role with an authority and conviction none of the other actors can match.