The Yellow Handkerchief is a long, slow drive to nowhere, a well-intentioned but plodding drama. Of course, if you need a shot of artificial gravity there's no better solution than William Hurt.
Hurt plants the thousand-eye stare firmly on the horizon, and imbues each line with weight as Brett, a newly freed convict carrying a mountain of buried guilt. For contrast, he's paired with the avatar of gawky teen insecurity, Kristen Stewart, who continues to fumble her way toward respectability, a path which could quickly open as soon as she quits biting her lower lip and shoe-gazing through scenes. As interesting as these performers are, they get upstaged by youthful Eddie Redmayne, who makes lemonade out of an unlikable lemon of a character; a twitchy weirdo named Gordy, who claims to be a Native American despite having more freckles than Conan O'Brien's kid brother. Why these three misfits end up in a classic convertible together is as arbitrary as their destination, a Katrina-ravaged New Orleans used strictly as pointless seasoning for a flavorless script.
Eventually we learn the purpose behind this caravan of dysfunction, as we get plenty of flashbacks to Brett's lost love May, played credibly by Maria Bello, a good actress prone to heavy-handed dramatics. Predictably there's a dark secret behind Brett's imprisonment, and to the incident that ended his marriage, but there's a million miles of dusty gravel to cross getting there.
Hurt's marvelous playing off someone, as in his scenes with Bello, but too often he's left waiting for Stewart to catch up. In fairness, this movie has been gathering dust on a shelf for three years, and so when Stewart shot this her delicate hot-house flower routine hadn't yet wilted in post-Twilight celebrity. Her more recent fans will likely be stymied by this film's somnambulistic pace.
Open Friday, April 2, at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.