A less-confusing `Cole' would be easier to like

September 17, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Sebastian Cole is one confused kid. So, too, is this chronicle of a year in his life.

First-time writer-director Tod Williams is so intent on giving us the life of a real teen-ager, without sensationalism or excessive titillation, that he forgets to weave the events of this life into any real cohesive story. Nor does he provide much background; the film comes off as a set of snapshots of a teen-ager's life, without much insight into why he acts the way he does -- or, for that matter, what makes him worthy of our attention.

Sebastian is first encountered wandering bloodied in the desert. The year he's just experienced -- 1983 -- unfolds as an extended flashback and it starts off with a bang: Sebastian's stepdad, Hank (Clark Gregg), decides that now's the time to announce his decision to become a woman.

Of course, this throws the household into a tizzy -- except for Sebastian, who never seems especially bothered. He sees himself as something of a non-conformist, so who is he to judge? Poor Mom (Margaret Colin, who deserves a better career than she's had so far), however, responds by dragging Sebastian back to England with her. A few months there (just a few seconds in screen time) convinces him life in America ain't so bad, so he jumps back across the pond and moves in with Hank.

Many life adventures ensue.

In presenting young Sebastian to us, Williams falls back on too many cliches to be the fresh voice he thinks he is. Like every teen-ager since James Dean, Sebastian fancies himself a rebel; Hank, who appears the oddest person in the film, turns out to be the most level-headed; and, of course, there's a girl who just wants to be loved, and who comes along to rescue Sebastian (in this case, literally).

Williams also populates the film with supporting characters that are as unpleasant as they are relentlessly one-dimensional, from Sebastian's dad, an early yuppie who brings new meaning to the term "shallow," to his sister's ex-boyfriend, sort of a Fonzie without the humor.

Gregg brings unforced dignity to a role that could easily have turned to caricature, and as Sebastian, Adrian Grenier has practiced his brooding. Williams desperately wants us to care for, or at least identify with, this kid. And maybe we could, if we could make better sense of what's going on here, and why.

`The Adventures of Sebastian Cole'

Starring Adrian Grenier, Clark Gregg and Margaret Colin

Written and directed by Tod Williams

Rated R (Language, crude sexual references, substance abuse)

Released by Paramount Classics

Running time 105 minutes

Sun score **

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