One clear sign you're stranded in IndieLand: You're watching famous people slumming it in roles they weren't exactly born to play. Lake City features two such adventures in résumé-padding. Former fashion model Rebecca Romijn plays, of all things, a small-town Southern cop, while jam-band icon Dave Matthews plays a brutal drug dealer. (Matthews' presence is also evidence that Lake City was shot in Virginia, his home state.) Romijn and Matthews appear alongside such stalwart character actors as The Sopranos' Drea de Matteo, as an unstable addict, and Sissy Spacek, as a melancholy loner coping with the return of her wayward son, Troy Garity. All the performers are fine—even the miscast Romijn—but they're still too much like actors playing dress-up.

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As to why Spacek feels melancholy, and when Garity went wayward… well, in keeping with modern screenplay convention, co-writer/directors Hunter Hill and Perry Moore withhold these details from the audience for the first two-thirds of the film. The aim is to hook viewers with the mystery of how these relationships got broken, then move us with the answers just before the story's latent pulp elements manifest in chases and gunplay. And it's just that contrivance—that caution—that undoes Lake City. The movie has an earnest tone, and a burnished golden glow that's pleasing to the eye, but the characters have no life beyond their immediate problems, and the actions the plot requires them to take to resolve them.

Even Lake City's rural setting feels anecdotal, defined by country stores and offhand references to clogging. At one point, de Mateo's son tells Spacek that his mom works at Hooters, adding, "She's a dancer." Does this kid not know that Hooters is a restaurant, not a strip club, or is the ignorance Hill and Moore's? Either way, that's another example of how Lake City approaches its characters' lives from the outside. No matter how personal this story and milieu may be to the filmmakers and cast, they all behave like tourists.