Daltry Calhoun is so lopsidedly plot-holed, so inconsistent in tone and rhythm, and so aimless and disjointed that it appears to have been constructed by a frazzled editor who, faced with an impossible deadline to snip a rough cut into presentable shape, simply decided to excise every fourth scene. What makes this nagging impression even more perplexing, however, is the fact that the film has been languishing in a Miramax closet for the better part of a year, yet another of the Weinstein brothers’ miscalculations now being foisted upon the public during this pre-Oscar season dumping ground. Writer-director Katrina Holden Bronson’s debut is a calamitous beast, a serio-comic portrait of small-town Southerners infatuated with country kitsch—“authentic” local flavor is affected via references to Ronco pasta makers and shots from the point of view of gaudy wall-mounted moose heads—that, by lurching back and forth between various styles and stories, seems unclear of its own intentions.
After abandoning his baby’s mama May (Elizabeth Banks) and infant daughter June (newcomer Sophie Traub) 14 years ago, Daltry (Johnny Knoxville) has transformed himself from a slothful scalawag into the entrepreneurial pride and joy of Ducktown, U.S.A. (in Tennessee) by founding a company that produces sod for the nation’s finest golf courses. Famous for a commercial in which he proclaims, “Get high on grass—the legal kind!,” Daltry is an aw-shucks poster-boy for rags-to-riches dreams. But with his business teetering on the edge of collapse, his life takes a further unexpected twist when May—now afflicted with the hoariest of storytelling devices: the ill-defined fatal illness—shows up on Daltry’s doorstep with musical prodigy June, whose blabbermouth precociousness is exemplified by chatter about the similarities between Johnny Cash and hip-hop (pop-culture gibberish that surely appealed to executive producer Quentin Tarantino) and endless talk about being accepted early-admission to Julliard.
Daltry’s reconciliation with his long-lost offspring, however, turns out to be only one of this spongy mess’s infertile narrative seeds, as Bronson’s film also concerns itself with June’s sexual coming-of-age with Daltry’s Australian turf expert (Kick Gurry), Daltry’s budding courtship with widowed saleswoman Flora (Juliette Lewis), and June’s efforts to help Daltry’s mentally challenged employee Doyle (David Koechner) learn to read. The director pieces together these subplots as if she were writing a cheesy country music ballad, articulating the film’s earnest emotions and themes with a blunt lack of subtlety exemplified by soggy symbolism (June running underneath a red stoplight) and a score filled with songs that spell out the readily obvious action. In its only bearable performance, a hair-twirling Lewis carefully captures Flora’s awkward, aggressive eagerness to escape her mournful purgatory. Yet with Knoxville looking uncomfortably perplexed as a leading man and Traub behaving too self-consciously adult for her own prepubescent good, Daltry Calhoun proves to be as slight as a blade of grass—and, unfortunately, about as intoxicating as the legal kind.