Take it from Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees: If your car should ever break down in Lost Junction, start hiking. Even with Neve Campbell in residence, you don't want to be stuck in this dreary place.
"Don't ask, Jimmy. The less you know, the better."
Lost Junction could more aptly be called Lost Direction. It seems to have started out as a Southern noir but took a wrong turn or three. The basic elements are there: a pouty-lipped temptress who knows more than she's telling (Neve Campbell, The Company); the stubble-faced drifter who's running away from his past (Billy Burke); the tough guy with slicked-back hair whose presence hints at trouble (Charles Powell); and a host of that Southern specialty, sauntering lawmen who interpret justice according to their own whim. There are screened porches, home-cooked meals, humid nights, large sums of money, and—eventually—a corpse. Unfortunately, there's neither urgency nor suspense to this bland film.
Campbell plays the mysterious heroine, Missy, who picks up Jimmy McGee (Burke) from the side of the road after his car breaks down. Why exactly she picks him to bring into her plans is one of many plot puzzles the movie never bothers to resolve. Perhaps it's the eccentricity that we come to recognize as a characteristic of Missy, or perhaps she's just so used to having a man in her life that she doesn't feel comfortable operating without one. Jimmy is just as confused about her readiness to welcome him into her home, but he's perfectly content to hang out with her—and what red-blooded male wouldn't be, especially when she leaves the bathroom door open while she's taking bubble baths?
Although he's cognizant of Missy's charms, Jimmy does start to wonder about some of the mysteries, big and small, that seem to accumulate around her. For one thing, there's the absent Doc, Missy's husband, whom she says is in Texas visiting relatives. But no one seems to believe Missy when she tells them this, and police start to show up at the house uninvited. Before Jimmy can catch his breath, he and Missy are on the run with the contents of her savings account, en route to New Orleans to take refuge with her volatile friend Porter (Powell). It's no surprise when Jimmy and Missy start falling for each other. But Missy refuses to leave New Orleans with him when he decides to make peace with his old friend Matt (Jake Busey), and Jimmy begins to wonder if she and her money are safe with Porter, especially with the police still pursuing the question of Doc's fate.
If this doesn't sound like a very inviting synopsis, you can consult the back of the DVD cover for a more thrilling one: It contains a massive spoiler, but it makes the story sound a lot more exciting and gritty. However, in that respect it is sadly misleading. Even with the prospect of a good juicy noir-ish bit of violence in the offing, Lost Junction lost me very quickly. It's too sunny and laid-back to be an effective noir; it never succeeds in creating the air of sultry suspense that is promised by the genre (not to mention by the dark, portentous package design). Yet it's not quirky or nimble enough to work as camp or black comedy. The mystery at its heart is never very gripping, and the final twist seems both unnecessary and tame—a kitten's mew instead of a tiger's snarl. The dull screenplay and plodding direction conspire to make the characters seem too dim-witted to engage our sympathy as they should, and they persist in a certain naïvete that seems completely out of place in the modern-day world.
If the characterization and tone are too pedestrian and beige to engage us properly, perhaps the atmosphere will redeem the film. Nope. Lost Junction itself lacks all distinction as a setting; its precise location isn't even specified, so we don't know what state calls this generic little backwater home. Most films that use this kind of Southern setting relish the humidity, the insects, the dirt roads, the way nature insinuates itself squishily into every crevice. Sadly, Lost Junction is too tidy and sanitary to capitalize on its Southernness in this way. Even the standard Southern character stereotypes seem halfhearted; when a local says "You ain't from 'round here, are you?" to Jimmy, it seems obligatory rather than menacing. About the only real function of the setting is to explain why the townspeople are so enmeshed in each other's business and so quick to close ranks. No, I stand corrected: The setting of the small Southern town also explains why the policeman are so staggeringly inept: careless about fingerprints, hysterically prone to leap to conclusions, quick to hold bystanders at gunpoint, and positively comatose in their response to what I can only describe as an attention-getting event at the jail. In that respect, the setting acts a lot like a plot convenience. Instead of going to the trouble to make the characters behave logically, the screenwriter can just push them around to suit his purposes and rely on their hick status to explain their anomalous actions.
The acting is subdued on the whole, perhaps due to the actors' awareness that they had already been defeated by the material, but at least the actors resist the temptation to be hammy. Campbell is, as always, watchable: She brings sweetness and vulnerability to her role, and due to her efforts Missy has some quirky charm and is not just the goofy airhead she so easily could have been. Nevertheless, it's beyond Campbell's power to make the film actually good. Busey brings a welcome infusion of energy into this lackadaisical story, but the lines he's forced to utter don't take advantage of his charisma. Even so, he's more engaging than our leading man, Burke, who is unable to give Jimmy any individuality or charisma. If Missy were smart she'd forget about Jimmy and Porter and go for Matt. But Missy isn't smart—which, come to think of it, actually makes her the perfect match for Jimmy.
Audiovisual quality for Lost Junction is nice, for what it's worth: The visual transfer is clean and clear, with attractive color, and the audio mix renders dialogue and music with effective clarity and balance. The only extra (besides trailers for other MGM films) is the film's original trailer, which employs a boatload of portentous voice-over in an effort to make the movie sound gripping and suspenseful.
Except for die-hard fans of Campbell, who has done much more memorable work than this, Lost Junction is an entirely skippable film. It's not actively bad; it's just dull. The biggest mystery about it is why it received an R rating. Except for the use of what Missy squeamishly calls "the f-word," it is practically ladylike in its restraint…which is not a quality one looks for in a noir.
The court hereby declares Lost Junction guilty of impersonating a Southern noir. It will serve out its sentence in Deliverance country, where it can learn a few things about creating atmosphere and tension. Y'all don't come back, now, you hear?
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