Coastlines Coastlines
2.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

Betrayal is at the heart of the plot of “Coastlines,” a low budget tale mixing action and revenge set in Nowheresville, Florida. The characters main concern in the tiny town is to screw each other around – literally and figuratively. Filmed in 2004 by Victor Nunez (who directed “Ulee’s Gold” and “Ruby in Paradise”), it’s not hard to see why the picture was held back for three years. The story, pat action, and lack of character development smack of a disposable made-for-TV adventure used to fill the air time between “The Tonight Show” and the morning news. It’s harmless, reasonably entertaining, and won’t strain your brain -- a recipe for box office mediocrity.

The slight plot revolves around a trio of child hood friends. The town is protected by respected, stalwart policeman Dave Lockhart (Josh Brolin, who tries hard to please). Dave is everyone’s safety valve, everyone’s protector. He’s happily married to Ann, a doctor at the local clinic. (Australian actress Sarah Wynter plays Ann with believable conviction, giving the film more credibility than it deserves.) Dave and Ann have two precocious daughters and an ideal, comfortable lifestyle. Enter, or rather, re-enter Sonny Mann (an ossified Tim Olyphant), Dave and Ann’s best friend, paroled early from a three-year stretch in the pen. He promises his hard-working fisherman dad he’s going to go straight. (Character actor Scott Wilson, who gave chilling performances in “In the Heat of the Night” and “In Cold Blood,” portrays Pa Mann as a laid-back backwoods philosopher. Like Wynter he’s a treat to watch.) Sonny promises himself he’ll go straight after he gets the $200,000 his former partners, (Fred and Eddie Vance) owe him for taking the fall. Fred Vance tries to lure Sonny back into drug peddling, but Sonny resists. All Sonny wants is his money and a fresh start. (Venerable character actor William Forsythe takes on the role of Fred, and Billy resists the urge to phone it in, despite the clichéd script). When Sonny refuses Fred’s offer, Eddie, Fred’s lunkhead nephew (Josh Lucas, who is phoning it in) notes: “He’s trouble. If not today, then tomorrow.” Instead of paying Sonny off and enjoying his hedonistic hobbies on his boat, Fred takes the advice of his Rhoades scholar nephew, suggesting they contact an associate “about some work.”

Out on the town, Sonny hooks up with local mattress-back Effie Bender (feisty Angela Bettis), who happens to work with Ann. Satisfied and sleepy, Sonny returns home. He changes his mind about going to bed at the last moment, deciding to take his dad’s dog out hunting instead. As he leaves, his father’s house is leveled by a blast big enough to shear off the top of Mount St. Helens. Sonny is left bruised, battered and bleeding twenty feet or more from where he stood, a betrayed orphan. The dog is none the worse for wear.

In the hospital, a dazed Sonny is attended to by Ann, who chick-blocks Effie by telling her Sonny needs his rest. She and Sonny lock lips, which Ann regrets, but doesn’t forget. Sonny knows who cremated his father before he was ready and vows revenge. He wastes no time in wasting Eddie, beating him around the floor of the Vance’s general store and in turn making himself a bloody mess all over again. (Olyphant spends much of the film smeared with fake blood.) Dave comes to his friends rescue, convincing Fred not to press charges, although Fred seems reluctant to completely let go:

Dave: Sonny likes to keep things to himself, but in this case he may be right. He might
like to open up a bit. You understand?

Fred: Tell Sonny we’re even.

Dave: Don’t you have enough?

Fred: There ain’t never enough. Even you know that Dave.

Recovering from his ordeal at Dave’s house, Sonny brazenly approaches Ann. She resists long enough to realize she can’t resist, then launches herself across the room at Sonny as if she was shot out of a cannon and he was a bull’s eye. Satiated and sitting on the kitchen floor, Ann asks aloud, “How could I do this to him (Dave)?” Sonny’s response summarizes his reckless personality: “I’ll be dead soon enough. You gotta go where life takes you.” Die young, stay pretty, Sonny.

Now it’s Dave who’s on the short end of the betrayal stick. Ann tries to hide her remorse, but now finds herself avoiding Dave’s touch.

Sonny visits Bob Johnson, the local body and fender man, (Robert Wisdom, taking over the role of spinning homilies now that Pa Mann is toast). Bob offers him a job and a place to stay. With Dave out patrolling the empty streets, Ann visits Sonny in his greasy backroom digs, prompting more lust and betrayal, but a lot less guilt. Now Ann views her perfect life with Dave as boring, predictable. Sack time with the dangerous, unpredictable Sonny has made life exciting again.

But Sonny’s primary concern is still revenge. He calls Fred, saying he wants to parlay with him. Bad guys have been falling for the “Let’s meet in peace” ploy throughout cinematic history, and you know Fred’s too proud and too stupid to resist meeting Sonny in a remote portion of the bay. Before you can say ramming speed, Sonny gets his revenge against the Vance’s. And Dave, Sonny’s protector, is there to lend a hand, in more ways than one. It’s a simple, unspectacular way to rid the film of the Vance’s that will leave you feeling betrayed.

The actors try hard, but their roles are sketches that you’ve seen in dozens of films before. Olyphant is the bad boy with the 1,000 yard stare women fall in love with; Brolin is the safe, steadfast good guy women marry and fall out of love with; Wynter wonders how exciting her life would be if she’d married Sonny and nearly ruins her life trying to find out, and Forsythe is the greedy villain who meets a textbook end. Olyphant looks uncomfortable throughout, occasionally affecting a deer-in-the-headlights look that makes it hard to believe an intelligent woman would risk everything to roll around on the kitchen floor with him. (This is the same Tim Olyphant who would don a moustache, a badge and a six shooter to portray Sheriff Seth Bullock, a classic western hero in HBO’s “Deadwood.” Well, everyone has to go school I suppose.) William Forsythe has made a career out of playing hard-nosed heavies, and knows how to convey a convincing New Orleans accent. Unfortunately, the action takes place in Florida. Try again, Billy. Bob Wisdom plays the standard issue jovial black guy/good friend role without embarrassing himself, and Lucas managed to pick up a paycheck for two memorable lines. Bettis’ tramp with a golden heart is unsurprising but well played, but it’s Brolin and Wynter who live their roles, making their martial tug of war believable. What’s that you say? You find it hard to believe that a man would sleep with his best friend’s wife? I played softball with a pair of lifelong buddies, one a footloose roofer, the other, an insurance salesman, married to a stunning kindergarten teacher, and the three of them lived this adulterous farce. Her husband went away to a convention – unfortunately, the first stop he made before he came home was his best friend’s house. I would have thrown the hormone happy backdoor man off his own roof, lifelong friend or not – but he did nothing. The insurance salesman and the kindergarten teacher are still together, and both men remain devoted friends. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction… Perhaps my insurance salesman teammate got his revenge the same way Dave does in “Coastlines,” discreetly and quietly, working out his anger and inhibitions by picking up a stranger in a bar and living in Sonny’s skin just long enough to see what makes him tick.

You might be able to fool yourself long enough to get through “Coastlines” by passing the time watching the performances of Brolin, Wynter and Wilson. More than likely, “Coastlines” will leave you wearing the same slack-jawed expression Olyphant wears from the first reel to the last.

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