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Film review: Hearts in Atlantis

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Although movies being made from Stephen King's novels and short stories have become less gory and more story-intensive, they're also becoming awfully familiar.

And they don't get any more generic than "Hearts in Atlantis," a touchy-feely drama/fantasy that was actually taken from two short novellas ("Low Men in Yellow Coats" and "Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling") in the collection titled "Hearts in Atlantis."

But unlike the very memorable book, this beautiful looking but surprisingly uninvolving film appears to have been assembled, in Frankensteinian fashion, from parts from other, better King adaptations — especially "Stand By Me" and "The Green Mile."

All the familiar elements are there — a mysterious character with even more mysterious powers, a certain sense of nostalgia about the past and the now painfully cliched character who recalls past events conveyed initially through voice-over narration and eventually through extended flashback scenes.

This time around, that character would be Bobby Garfield (David Morse), a middle-aged photographer who has just been notified that one of his childhood friends has died. So he returns for the funeral and revisits his childhood home, which brings back memories of the most eventful year in his life — 1960, much of which he spent playing with his friend Sully (Will Rothhaar) and Carol (Mika Boorem).

But Bobby and his mother (Hope Davis) were also forced to just scrape by — a situation relieved somewhat by the arrival of Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins), a mystery man who rents their upstairs rooms. At first, Ted is content to be left alone, but eventually he and the inquisitive 11-year-old become friends, as the boy tries to figure out his new chum's secret.

In all fairness, this is a beautifully photographed piece (by late Polish cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski), but Scott Hicks ("Shine," "Snow Falling on Cedars") directs in a rather clinical, remote fashion. Also, William Goldman's screenplay explores the characters and some weightier issues in a most superficial fashion.

That's unfortunate, considering how talented this cast is. After his hammy turn in "Hannibal," it's nice to see Hopkins as understated as he is here, while youngsters Yelchin and Boorem impress. (However, as Bobby's self-absorbed mother, the usually dependable Davis gives what's probably her worst big-screen performance to date.)

"Hearts in Atlantis" is rated PG-13 for violence (a beating and some menace), scattered profanity, a scene depicting rape (discreetly) and some brief vulgarity (a flatulence gag). Running time: 101 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com