Feeling Minnesota: Baigelman’s Directing Debut Starring Cameron Diaz

Despite a few genuinely engaging moments, almost everything in and about Feeling Minnesota, Steven Baigelman’s disappointing directorial debut, is irritatingly derivative: the second-hand plot, the small-time characters, and above all the limited, movieish vision. Meant to be an offbeat, darkly comic tale of a triangle of losers desperately clinging to their version of the American Dream, pic comes across as a charmless high-concept indie.

It’s doubtful that topliner Keanu Reeves, whose alleged star power didn’t do much for the B.O. of the recent thriller Chain Reaction, can help commercially an unappealing movie, which seems bound to enjoy a better and longer life in video-stores than in movie theaters.

Feeling Minnesota is yet another film that owes its existence to Tarantino and the recent cycle of indies about lowlifes, petty criminals, and wannabes. Credit sequence, which is set 20 years ago and shows two young brothers forcefully fighting, establishes right away the tone for a story of a bloody sibling rivalry, driven to an extreme by their love for the same sexy femme.

The film barely recovers from its first jarring, misogynist sequence, in which Freddie (Cameron Diaz), a beautiful woman in a white wedding gown, is chased, beaten up and thrown into a car by Red (Delroy Lindo), a local mobster who accuses her of stealing $10,000 from him. Red has the word SLUT tattooed on Freddie’s arm and, as further punishment, forces her to marry Sam (Vincent D’Onofrio), his dumb, brutish accountant.

As the wedding ceremony is about to begin, with Sam’s mother Nora (Tuesday Weld) running around nervously, Jjakes (Reeves), Sam’s younger and more handsome brother, descends from a bus after spending some time in prison. Split by divorce, the two brothers haven’t seen each other for two decades, but their tense antagonism is still very much in evidence.

As soon as Freddie lays her eyes on Jjakes, she realizes he’s the one for her, and in a matter of seconds, the two make love on the bathroom’s floor, completely ignoring the event and its guests. It doesn’t take long for Freddie, a tough yet still romantic woman, to persuade the none-too-bright Jjakes that they are meant for each other, and that stealing some money from Sam might prove helpful in starting a new life in Las Vegas. What ensues is a yet another variation of amour fou and love on the run, with the requisite twists and turns concerning the characters’ true motivations.

Hitting the road with a stolen dog as company, Jjakes and Freddie are followed by a maliciously vengeful Sam, whose long-held fantasy of buying a dream house for Freddie is now totally shattered. Also involved in the proceedings are Ben (Dan Aykroyd), a corrupt cop with his own agenda, and Red, who’s furious upon discovering Sam’s embezzlement.

In a rather ludicrous sequence of events, Freddie is shot by one brother, mistaken to be dead and deserted by another, saved by a motel owner and so on. What is most baffling, however, is how tenaciously the movie insists on its Vegas-set (and Vegas-like) ending, which is more schematic than convincing and is meant to make the audience feel better after witnessing an aggravating yarn.

A road movie with violence that is supposed to be both comic and dramatic, Feeling Minnesota bears superficial resemblance to the far superior Something Wild, which also revolved around an eccentric trio with different approaches to love and was also largely set in sleazy motels and cheap diners. Like Jonathan Demme, Baigelman aims to spin a charming tale of oddballs and losers who still maintain a semblance of humanity, but in Baigelman’s case, what begins as a movie about dumb characters ends up feeling like a dumb movie.

As writer and director, Baigelman crams his movie with interminable arguments, obnoxious fistfight, and foul dialogue; almost every scene concludes with the characters screaming and yelling or slapping each other.

The real mystery is how did Baigelman manage to get such lackluster acting from a cast of distinguished, highly reliable thesps. Sadly, with the notable exception of the attractive Diaz, who’s well cast as the sexual aggressor and romantic manipulator, there are no other exciting performances in the film.

As the naive Jjakes, Reeves is back to the amorphous and elusive style that marked his goofy, spacey portrayals in the ’80s. Stuck with a heavy role that has almost no redeeming qualities, the gifted D’Onofrio renders one of his few tedious performances in an otherwise brilliant acting career. Lindo and Aykroyd, whose strong presence and considerable skills have elevated so many mediocre movies in the past, also register poorly. Considering that it was specifically tailored for her talents, Weld’s part is tiny and unrewarding, and same goes for Helm, who’s wasted as a Bible salesman.

Shot on location, pic boasts proficient tech credits, particularly Walt Lloyd’s sharp lensing of a gray Minnesota, which often evokes a mythical quality that’s almost entirely missing from the narrative.