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TENDERNESS (director: John Polson; screenwriters: Emil Stern/based on the novel by Robert Cormier; cinematographer: Tom Stern; editors: Lisa Zeno Churgin/Andrew Marcus; music: Jonathan Goldsmith; cast: Russell Crowe (Lieutenant Cristofuoro), Jon Foster (Eric Komenko), Sophie Traub (Lori Cranston), Arija Bareikis (Marsha), Alexis Dziena (Maria), Michael Kelly (Gary), Laura Dern (Aunt Teresa); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: R; producers: John Penotti/Howard Meltzer/Charles Randolph; Lionsgate; 2009)
“An arty psychologicalthrillerthat never catches fire as either a serial killer flick or character study.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Polson (“Siam Sunset”/”Swimfan”/”Hide and Seek“)directs an arty psychologicalthrillerthat never catches fire as either a serial killer flick or character study.It’s based on the novel by Robert Cormier and is written in a meandering way by Emil Stern.

It’s about three depressed characters living in upstate New York: a mixed-up 16-year-old girl named Lori Cranston (Sophie Traub); The psychopathic college-aged Eric Komenko (Jon Foster) just released from a juvenile detention center after serving a three year sentence for murdering his parents and possibly murdering several girls; and a weary semi-retired Buffalo policeofficer,Lieutenant Cristofuoro (Russell Crowe), who cares for his comatose hospitalized wife and worries that Eric’s release will lead to other murders.

Eric finds religion in jail and is released to the custody of his Aunt Teresa (Laura Dern), who lives in Lakewood–a suburb of Buffalo. The unhappy Lori outwardly accepts her mom’s announcement that her lover is moving in with them, but inwardly stews. Lori has become obsessed with Eric and has kept a scrapbook on him. Upon his release, she hides in his Volvo’s backseat and talks him into taking her with him to Albany to meet a girl named Maria (Alexis Dziena) in an amusement park. The tension mounts as the two freaky kids interact with each other, as they drive on the thruway to Albany. The dedicated Buffalo cop arrives in Lakewood and talks with the kid’s guardian, Aunt Teresa (Laura Dern), and tracks Eric down in Albany. After warning Lori that she’s with a murderer, the cop is rebuffed and she travels with Eric back to Lakewood.

The three characters are searching for some form of tenderness, with the perverted teenager’s search on the dangerous side. The film’s mantra has the erstwhile Lieutenant Cristofuoro repeatedly saying: My wife likes to say there are two kinds of people–those chasing pleasure and those running from pain. Well, Lori is the one chasing pleasure and Eric is the one running from pain, which doesn’t bode well for either.

Crowe gets a lot of star attention, but has a role that requires little to do but to track down the disturbed kids, give his wife a sponge bath and say the film’s mantra a few times.

The movie never excites and its heavy-handed presentation only leads one down a path of well-trodden plot conventions and a sense of mawkishness. Only the crazed twisty performance by Sophie Traub held my attention and kept the pic from being totally inconsequential.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”