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‘The Beans of Egypt, Maine’ (NR)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 02, 1994

"The Beans of Egypt, Maine" doesn't hurt for drama. There's an attempted murder at the beginning, which sends Maine logger Rutger Hauer to the slammer. And this adaptation of Carolyn Chute's dark, rustic novel is abundant with spirited arguments, passionate encounters between the sexes, and a number of births and funerals. But when Rutger gets out of prison 11 years later, he has missed nothing but melodramatic banality. That jail stretch turns out to have been the smartest move of his life.

Martha Plimpton, a headstrong lass from New England, has grown up across the dirt pathway from the Beans, a family of dirty ragtags. Although her Bible-thumping father forbids her to interact with her poor neighbors, Plimpton becomes fascinated with this "charismatic," impoverished family -- headed by Reuben Bean (Hauer), a besotted, larger-than-life figure who comes home drunk, bleeding, or both. Plimpton is particularly interested in young son Beal (Patrick McGaw), a strapping, stubbled boy-toy, who charms the women in the neighborhood -- well, all two of them. (The other woman is Kelly Lynch, who's still wearing the Axl Rose bandanna she had in "Three of Hearts.")

Plimpton gets pregnant by Guess Who, and the rest of the drama consists of their emotional travails: It takes Plimpton six years to identify the father and marry him. Hard times set in after the nuptials. There are battles, fights and crying children. You will feel every minute of the protracted struggle.

I haven't read Chute's novel -- which I would have mistaken for a Whole Earth cookbook anyway. But reviewers and readers have attested to its great quality. Unfortunately, there's no evidence of that here. In the movie, people's lives move from lethargic episode to lethargic episode. Shots are static and claustrophobically framed, as if the camera were chained like a dog to a nearby tree. Peter Manning Robinson's pseudo-heartland score -- a repetitive whining of mandolins and drum machine tappings -- ought to be buried in the hills somewhere.

As for the acting -- which features accents from anywhere but Egypt, Maine -- it would need a colossal surge of energy just to become irritating. Apparently anticipating this movie's post-theatrical fate, screenwriter Bill Phillips and director Jennifer Warren have employed the kind of weary, plodding style reserved for straight-to-video productions. Incidentally, if you're looking for this movie in the video stores next year, it will be released under the hyperbolically racy moniker, "Forbidden Choices." It may be a terrible title, but it's an excellent warning.

THE BEANS OF EGYPT, MAINE (Unrated) -- Contains nudity and mild profanity.

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