A compendium of bad ideas and worse filmmaking, Jake (son of Ridley) Scott’s Welcome to the Rileys is forever peddling its psychologically reductive message until, at the end, it fairly screams it out. “She’s not Emily!” yells Lois Riley (Melissa Leo) to husband Doug (James Gandolfini), referring both to their dead daughter Emily and Allison, Kristen Stewart’s New Orleans stripper/prostitute, who Doug and, later, Lois take under their protective paternal wing. This identification of the hooker as proxy child is confirmed by a Kmart store clerk who mistakenly refers to Allison as Lois’s “daughter” and is later refuted in no uncertain terms when Allison angrily tells Lois, “You’re not my fucking Mom,” but the film’s thematic die is cast when Doug, an Indianapolis businessman, ducks out of a Big Easy business dinner and first wanders into the strip club where the young woman works. As Scott’s camera zooms in toward a black door in the middle of a deserted Latin Quarter street and beat-heavy music mounts, we’re invited into the titty bar as into a hellish lair, an attitude confirmed by the director’s decision to bathe the club in the same lurid red glow that every filmmaker since Mean Streets-era Scorsese has colored his strip joints. No Tony Soprano at home amid the Bada Bing’s mounds of bared flesh, Gandolfini’s awkward Doug refuses Allison’s offer of a lap dance (or a blowjob), but, in the way that these things usually happen on screen—though one imagines never in real life—he ends up befriending the young woman anyway.
Emotionally adrift after the death of his daughter and the more recent demise of his lover, Doug moves down to New Orleans and makes Allison his special project, thus ensuring that his redemption will revolve around that most tired of cinematic clichés: the man who doesn’t want to fuck the hooker he’s paid for; he’d rather try to save her. In this case, he’s got his (psychological) reasons (she’s practically the same age as his daughter was when she died), and so does his wife, who, after overcoming an acute case of locked-in syndrome to join her husband in New Orleans, supplements her husband’s efforts by helping Allison with those pesky “womanly” issues—notably a nasty case of STD-induced urinary irritation. While Stewart’s thesping is adequately feisty to prevent her relegation to the margins of the merely symbolic, there’s still the unpleasant sensation, present in all save-the-hooker films, that the prostitute’s miserable circumstances exist strictly as the means of salvation for her would-be benefactor.
In the end, of course, the makeshift “family” arrangement proves untenable and Lois teaches Doug to redirect his affection back to her, which he does by reigniting their sex life via a verbal exchange that, not for the first time in the Ken Hixon’s screenplay, unfolds as little more than clumsy and redundant exposition. In fact, setting aside a surprisingly amenable conversation between Lois and a man who tries to pick her up at a café that, despite the would-be suitor’s lack of success, leaves both parties feeling better about themselves, nearly all the film’s dialogue is as unimaginative as the pedestrian camerawork, either spelling out its themes too baldly or working overtime to express the crude inarticulateness of Kristen Stewart’s good-hearted, but foul-mouthed character. In fact, the only reason to see this film, at least for the curiosity seekers in the movie-going public, may be that it offers what is probably the unique chance of hearing the Twilight darling make non-ironic use of the word “cooter”—and three times at that.