Unexpected 'Providence': The brothers behind 'There's Something About Mary' ditch most of the gross-outs in exchange for an authentic story and characters to care about.

September 01, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

On its face, "Outside Providence" would seem to be just another story about the coming-of-age of a fish-out-of-water. But it was co-written by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, whose claims to fame include "Dumb and Dumber," "Kingpin" and "There's Something About Mary." Could this modest little movie be their "Citizen Kane"?

Fans of the Farrellys' signature brand of gross-out humor may at first experience shock at the relative sophistication of "Outside Providence," although the movie features its share of graphic body functions, crippled dogs and rough humor. But fans and non-fans alike can't help but warm up to a movie that, despite its formulaic elements, possesses memorable portrayals of thoroughly original characters and draws a beguilingly bleak portrait of its Rhode Island settings.

Adapted from Peter Farrelly's novel of the same name, "Outside Providence" has been directed by Michael Corrente with the feel for atmosphere and eye for detail that give it an important sense of authenticity.

Shawn Hatosy plays Timothy Dunphy, a high school senior living in Pawtucket, R.I., in the 1970s. Dunph, as he's called, is pretty typical of certain teens of the time, living with his widowed father (Alec Baldwin) and brother in a blue-collar rowhouse, chasing beer and pot with almost as much enthusiasm as he chases girls. (A typical encounter with his dad goes like this: "Where are you going?" "Out." "What are you going to do?" "Hang around." "When are you coming back?" "Later.")

Dunph has only a few more months of partying to go before graduating, until an ill-advised encounter with a police car lands him in the clink; his sentence is to spend the rest of the semester at a snooty prep school. As fish out of water go, Dunph is approaching "Old Man and the Sea" territory, until he hooks up with some fellow members of the Joint Committee, who have concocted a device for smoking marijuana that ranks with the gin mill in "M*A*S*H" for Rube Goldberg-esque ingenuity and effectiveness.

When Dunph meets Jane (Amy Smart), a pretty student at a sister school, "Outside Providence" takes a more cliched turn (can a moratorium please be declared on the falling-in-love montage, or at least the wacky Frisbee scene therein?). And it should surprise no one when Dunph is faced with a crisis of integrity that will prove irrevocably whether he is a man.

But such predictability still doesn't detract from the most likable elements of "Outside Providence," primarily Hatosy and Baldwin, who jibe perfectly with the story's rough-edged appeal.

Hatosy delivers a focused and unfussy performance in the movie's central role, never letting his boyish good looks make Dunph too ingratiating. And Baldwin is almost unrecognizable as Dunph's gruffly inarticulate father, who can't tell a bong from an oboe and calls his son by a nickname that can't be repeated in a family newspaper. Paunchy and bleary-eyed, Baldwin proves his underrated acting mettle in a role that calls for as much pathos as bluster.

It's to the filmmakers' credit that they never try to gussy up Dunph's relationship with his father; Baldwin's character is an odious boor or a tough-loving dad, depending on your point of view. And they don't put Dunph through an only-in-Hollywood transformation.

The film's final scene says it all, when Dunph graduates, then hops into his father's car. Nothing on the surface has changed, but the important things have, and gratefully, the Farrellys trust their audience enough to figure that out for themselves.

`Outside Providence'

Starring Shawn Hatosy, Alec Baldwin, Jon Abrahams, Tommy Bone, Amy Smart

Directed by Michael Corrente

Released by Miramax Films

Rated R (pervasive teen drug use and strong language

including sexual references)

Running time: 97 minutes

Sun score: *** (3 STARS)

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