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Film review: Shipping News, The

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The third time is definitely not the charm for director Lasse Hallstrom.

The Swedish-born filmmaker made his first big splash with the 1986 charmer "My Life as a Dog," adapted from the Reidar Jonsson novel. In the years that followed, he's made a living off repeating the same formula: adapting best-sellers into movies with all-star casts and then expecting both Oscars and box-office bucks to follow.

And while that may have worked with 1999's "The Cider House Rules," last year's "Chocolat" was less successful. And now, "The Shipping News" looks to be the least of these, both artistically and commercially.

Despite coming from the highly regarded Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Annie Proulx, the film is a generally unappealing drama that feels as icy as its setting — and one that seems to miss the point of the story.

The title refers to a local newspaper that may present a prime opportunity for New York ink-setter Quoyle (Kevin Spacey, sporting red hair). And it's one he's likely to take, especially after some recent tragedies — the suicide of his parents and the tragic death of his unfaithful wife (Cate Blanchett, in a brief supporting turn).

Suddenly left to take care of his daughter alone, Quoyle turns to his recently arrived Aunt Agnis (Judi Dench), who recommends that he return to his ancestral home, a tiny fishing village on the coast of Newfoundland.

There, he finds employment at the Gammy Bird, where he is supposed to report on the comings and goings of boats. He also finds love with a widow, Wavey Prowse (Julianne Moore) but only after long-standing family secrets threaten to destroy everything.

Screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs' adaptation is rather episodic. As a result, Hallstrom never seems to gain a firm footing with the material, which wavers between drama, odd dark humor and even fantasy, and none of it really works.

This really isn't Spacey's finest hour, either. Playing a simpleton, he's never really convincing or sympathetic. However, he does get strong support from co-stars Dench, Moore and Scott Glenn, the latter playing the paper's hard-headed owner and editor.

"The Shipping News" is rated R for occasional use of strong profanity, violence (drunken vandalism, as well as some group violence), brief sex (done for laughs), a brief and fairly discreet scene depicting rape, use of some crude slang terms, brief gore and brief partial female nudity. Running time: 111 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com