How's this for a premise: When one of his parents passes away, a numb 20-something suddenly re-evaluates his life, thanks to an inspiring, remarkably forward love interest he meets on his brief sojourn to the parents' home state.
If it sounds familiar, it should: Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown is, for all intents and purposes, Garden State 2. But where the delightful Garden State showed that its auteur, Zach Braff, is a disciple of pillowy pop-music patchworks like Say Anything and Jerry Maguire, Crowe's cloying Elizabethtown little more than a phoned-in date movie makes it clear the pupil has outshone his professor.
Crowe's latest music video finds Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) losing a high-level corporate job at a shoe company because his product design was a multimillion-dollar "fiasco" (his own words). Having trained his entire life for that job alone, Drew hastily decides to trash his valuables and off himself, Elliott Smith-style, with a butcher knife through the chest. Just as he's about to do the deed, he gets a call informing him that his father is dead. It's now Drew's mission to take the red-eye to Kentucky, have his father cremated and bring the ashes home to Oregon. On the plane, he meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst), a flight attendant inexplicably drawn to the reclusive Drew the way only headstrong leading women know how to be, and yada yada yada ….
The family reunion yields simple-minded caricatures of patriotic Southerners; other characters scream bloody murder and burst out crying in overblown attempts at supporting-cast color. Claire, meanwhile, is the most innocuous and underdeveloped leading woman in any Crowe film. And in lieu of genuine, hard-earned truths about society, the filmmaker settles for tired aphorisms like "success was the only god the entire world served."
Covering for the clear lack of narrative meat, Crowe piles on as many sloppily contrived "movie moments" as he can. The film's long, climactic road-trip voyage is laughable in its sheer implausibility and made doubly excruciating by the predictable music choices. Listening to the film's assaulting palette of bland, adult-alternative sap, you'll find it hard to believe it was made by the same guy who argued with Lester Bangs about Lou Reed and David Bowie outside a hip radio station 30 years ago.
If sweetness were the sole determinant of a film's value, Elizabethtown might be a masterpiece. Drew and Claire exchange light, cuddly quotes that Crowe tries to turn into the next "you complete me" via sheer repetition. Only the blackest hearts would find such verbal sugar truly appalling, but requirements like logic, intelligence and originality force us to look past the good intentions of Elizabethtown and see it for what it really is: a stupid, hokey advertisement for Cameron Crowe's record collection.