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'Providence': R.I. Confidential

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 1, 1999

  Movie Critic

'Outside Providence'
The Farrelly Brothers return with their low-brow comedy in "Outside Providence." (Miramax)

Michael Corrente
Shawn Hatosy;
Alec Baldwin;
Amy Smart;
Tommy Bone;
Jonathan Brandis;
Jon Abrahams;
Tim Crowe;
George Wendt
Running Time:
1 hour, 31 minutes
For obscene dialogue and marijuana jokes.
Well, doesn't someone consider himself special these days?

All right, Peter Farrelly, you're one-half of the team that made a couple of hundred million bucks on "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary," but that hardly qualifies you for the memoirist's chair.

But that's pretty much what "Outside Providence" is, ready or not: the fabulous Peter Farrelly story, a portrait of the artist as a young lout, in which Our Hero proves himself smarter, funnier and more attractive than any other kid in that raggedy Rhode Island city. But Peter, guess what: You're not that important. I mean, really, this guy got rich on a joke about sperm mousse.

To be fair, the story wasn't sold to a filmmaker because its teller became so prominent in the world of infantile comedy. It was sold before that – for $1. However, it did get made because of goofball comedy prominence.

Farrelly, way back in 1988 before he hit it big in Hollywood, published a novel to modest reviews, all two of them. No surprise, it was based on, as are so many first novels, its author's exquisitely nuanced life. A fellow Rhodie named Michael Corrente optioned it for that legendary dollar, later doubled as the years dragged on. Finally, after Farrelly, with his brother Bobby, hit the big time and Corrente hit the small time (he directed "American Buffalo" and "Federal Hill"), the production was consummated, not quite as a vanity project but very near.

The results are fitfully amusing but nothing remarkable. Peter, under the fictitious name Tim Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy), is a blue-collar early-'70s slacker who hangs around with a crowd of equally uninteresting laybabouts, numbed from the bitterness of working-class life by large applications of alcohol and marijuana. The other boys have names like – this is so cute! – Drugs and Mousy. There's nothing here Huntz Hall and the boys didn't come up with back in the '30s as the Dead End Kids.

But Tim drives a car foggy with grass fumes into a police cruiser. Bad move? Actually, good move because his father – Alec Baldwin, under two days of beard, with a potbelly and a Rhode Island accent – pulls some strings and gets him into a prep school outside of town. There he's tortured by having to (a) wear a tie, (b) attend class and study. Poor baby.

This is basically a fish-out-of-water thing, with the fish being Tim and the out-of-water being Cornwall Academy. But "Outside Providence" suffers from the classic flaw of the Bildungsroman. Stories of young men coming of age by young men who believe they've come of age inevitably fail on one issue, as does this one: The author assumes that he is interesting to his readers or his audience because he is so interesting to himself. This, by the way, is one of the hallmarks of not coming of age.

Exactly the opposite is true. Of all the characters in "Outside Providence," Tim Dunphy is the least interesting, and young actor Hatosy can do little to liven him up beyond showing a phalanx of teeth undisciplined by orthodontics. Unlike several of the other characters who've been given sharp traits, Tim is rendered as a vague spirit of youthful exuberance but nothing else.

He certainly lacks the manic, if infantile, humor that would prove his creator's making, and nothing we witness suggests that this boy, among all of them, has special things ahead of him. Why does the beautiful Jane Weston (Amy Smart) fall for him? Why does he so quickly become a clique leader among the outer circle of Cornwall's society? Who knows, and why should we care?

Worse, the focus on Tim deflects attention from the cast's more attractive members. For example, younger brother Jackie (Tommy Bone), the clear antecedent to Bobby Farrelly, is a beau geste spirit in a wheelchair with an indefatigable sense of optimism and more spunk than Mary Tyler Moore in her up phase. Hey, let's see a movie about that one!

Note: The movie "Outside Providence" is based on the novel of the same name by Peter Farrelly. The events in the movie and the novel are fiction and are not based in any way on Farrelly's life.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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