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"Lonesome Jim"

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Feature commentary tracks on DVD editions of new movies are usually not worth the time, but you might need it to understand this one. Director Steve Buscemi, speaking with writer James C. Strouse, informs us for one thing that the opening scene in his movie was originally intended for the end. They just couldn't make it fit, he says, but it was such a beautiful shot they decided to tack it on anyway.

If that doesn't prove that the most serious filmmakers are not at work here, wait until you hear the concept — about a writer from the big city who returns to his dysfunctional family for a bit of gloomy soul searching. Sound familiar? Maybe you saw "Garden State."

The difference is that Jim (Casey Affleck) is from New York, not Los Angeles. But Affleck gives him the same disenchanted tone and slouchy posture that Mark Ruffalo had in "You Can Count on Me," another movie about a loser having a cathartic hometown moment. But Jim is a lot harder to root for than his forebears. He not only steals from his folks and talks his brother into trying to commit suicide, but he also tells his mother she's not a good parent and then refuses to come forward as a witness when she's falsely accused. Jim's bad behavior is staged to be sort of funny, and some of it is. But there are times you're not sure you're laughing with this movie or at it. And you're not sure Buscemi and Strouse are sure either.

Buscemi is a great character actor, and it's no surprise when he digs up a few of his own for the movie. Jim's family members — Kevin Corrigan, Seymour Cassel and Mary Kay Place — all help keep "Lonesome Jim" interesting on its own terms. But the title character's inevitable breakthrough is too pat to be believed. "Lonesome Jim" wants to be an odd combo of wacky and serious, but ends up being seriously whack. **



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