WELCOME TO THE RILEYS 2 1/2 stars
Samuel Goldwyn Films, Rated R
One of the most emotionally eloquent moments in Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls is when a grieving mother who’s lost her children cries out in despair, “God didn’t save my babies.” To which another character replies, “Then save some other women’s babies.” This key episode in excavating human hope when there’s not much around more than makes its point but never follows through. Welcome to the Rileys, on the other hand, assumes the burden of that mission in the extreme.
James Gandolfini drops his tough guy Sopranos persona and gets in touch with his sensitive as Doug, a suburban Indiana plumber running a successful equipment business. He’s also trying to move on with his life as best he can after the death of his only child, while keeping a looming midlife crisis at bay. Unlike Doug’s withdrawn, chronically depressed wife Lois (Melissa Leo) who still fusses over their departed daughter’s room as if she’s still around and has even made the couple’s reservations, so to speak, at the local cemetery for internment next to their child’s grave.
Doug’s frustrating, seemingly borderline terminal existence gets turned around one night during a plumbers convention in New Orleans, when he heads off to a low-end strip bar to drink away painful memories. Instead, he’s cornered by sexually aggressive combo stripper/lap dancer and underage hooker Mallory (Kristen Stewart) and spurns her relentless moves on him.
After Doug runs into Mallory by chance the next day, he finds himself moving into her life as a father figure to a surrogate daughter as substitute for the one he’s lost. Lois’ wayward spouse eventually announces he’s not returning home anytime soon, prompting her to somehow overcomes her self-imposed physical isolation from the world and head off to join him in a quite thankless and most unwelcome parenting endeavor, targeting a fiercely resistant Mallory.
Welcome to the Rileys is the feature film debut of Ridley Scott offspring Jake, and with his embrace of psychologically driven, muted dramatic momentum over action, he’s evidently not a chip off the old block.
But while the pacing often sags, Stewart and her radical transition, impressively expanding her range from Twilight’s moping teen to an abrasive, profoundly damaged rude womanchild, effectively pick up the slack. As she settles into a sleazy routine that seems just as relaxed hanging around infatuated vampires, as glued to stripper poles and pasties. At the same time, a testosterone-stifled Gandolfini appears somewhat less comfortable in his own extreme switch-up from wiseguy to wimp, relegated here to deferring to Stewart as the no-nonsense sassy chick in charge.