It doesn’t take long to gather the influences trickling through Derick Martini’s Hick, an aimless tumbleweed of a road movie if ever there was one. Pointing a .45 at a bedroom mirror in her shabby Nebraska home, which rests in the silo-riddled outskirts of a podunk main drag, 13-year-old Luli (Chloë Grace Moretz) does her best Travis Bickle while reciting lines from Dirty Harry. Her walls are papered with drawings of both cowboys and princesses, and as she asks her reflection if it “feels lucky,” she shakes her hips to move the ruffles on a pair of rainbow panties. Over the rainbow is indeed where Luli dreams of ending up, and with her halter top, sunglasses, pistol, and improvised basket (a fringed and studded cowgirl’s handbag), the soon-to-be runaway looks every bit the hybrid of Judy Garland’s Dorothy and Jodie Foster’s Iris Steensma, whose mohawked guardian seems a Luli fantasy spawned by daddy issues (her boozy father, played by Anson Mount, is barely in the picture). Martini, whose last film, Lymelife, played like the poor man’s American Beauty, is intent on merging Oz-like fairy tale with cold, Scorsese grit, and Luli’s strange meanderings bleed with a yearning to mimic Truffaut’s essence of adolescence. But the inspirations go no deeper than surface level, as Hick doesn’t have much at all to say about anything, save the usual lowlife blather oft-recited with a sprig of wheat in the teeth.
Born to a mother played by Juliette Lewis, Luli is the kind of girl whose birthday is celebrated in a dive bar, and whose cinematic daydreams (she also quotes Marilyn Monroe and Gloria Swanson) urge her to skip town for a flashy place like Vegas. Her departure goes unnoticed to her parents, and soon she’s thumbing a ride from an ex-rodeo hotshot named Eddie (Eddie Redmayne), who walks with a bum leg when he’s not driving his white pickup. The film’s dialogue hits a relentless downward slope the moment Eddie and Luli begin chatting. Their introductions mark the first of a whole mess of meaningless exchanges, which merely describe and rehash Luli’s equally meaningless encounters, and never achieve even a random bit of interest. A convenience-store death and a senseless tirade about drink-mixing seem as insignificant as Luli’s overarching narration, which offers redneck witticisms alongside a tale of her apparently dead brother, whose story is visualized via the bland motif of Luli’s colored-pencil illustrations. Martini’s aesthetic looks as hollow as his characters’ words sound, as he holds tight on big skies and backwoods tranquility, but never assigns any image a deeper, notable context. At best, his hay-bale-filled fields flatly recall the Gale family’s Kansas homestead, just as Blake Lively’s whorish Glenda, a redheaded grifter who smokes pink cigarettes, has her obvious implications.
But for what? Though she meets the colorful characters required of every personal trek (oddly and incongruously, Lymelife’s Alec Baldwin and Rory Culkin show up too), Luli never appears to be coming of age, not even when she’s forced to be the Bonnie to Eddie’s Clyde after an implied rape that stands as the film’s only artful scene. If not just an experimental assemblage of trailer-trash clichés, which include everything from a Motel 6 to “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James & the Shondells, Hick, adapted by Andrea Portes from her own novel, comes off as but another stage in the fetishization of Moretz, whose comprehensive precocity has come to include a censor-teasing sexuality. In a movie with ample doses of pedophilia, there’s virtually no validating profundity to come by, and while it’s no surprise to see Moretz behaving badly and beyond her years, it’s never felt this unwarranted, let alone this uncomfortable. Typecast and handed the challenge of near-constant screen time, the actress herself seems unsure of how to approach the role, juggling toughness and innocence in what amounts to a lack of character. On screen, Moretz isn’t naturally cute. She has a face better suited for action, disgust, and bombshell seduction. Here, though, she often overplays a kind of stock ignorance, and the resulting air of unprofessionalism is the capper to a film that unfailingly fails to involve. If there’s one way in which the viewer can identify with the character, it’s in Luli’s frequent insistence to be let out of a vehicle and relieved of a ride, a plea that, while watching Hick, is only too resonant.