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Originally published Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 3:12 PM

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‘The Motel Life’: a sluggish look at 2 brothers on the run

A one-star movie review of “The Motel Life,” a drama about two brothers (played by Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff) who go on the run after a hit-and-run accident.

San Francisco Chronicle

Movie Review 1 stars

‘The Motel Life,’ with Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff, Dakota Fanning. Directed by Alan Polsky and Gabe Polsky, from a screenplay by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, based on a novel by Willy Vlautin. 80 minutes. Rated R for sexual content, language, some nudity, brief violent images and drug references. Grand Illusion, through Thursday.

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If you want to pick through it, you could find things to praise in “The Motel Life,” an adaptation of the novel by Willy Vlautin. Emile Hirsch is wonderfully expressive even in his stillness; it’s nice to see Stephen Dorff in a change-of-pace role as a hapless and frightened loser; and Dakota Fanning is growing into a graceful adult actress. So we end up looking forward to what they might do next — if only as a way to pass the time as we sit through this sluggish exercise.

As two little boys, Frank (Hirsch) and Jerry Lee (Dorff) faced the world together, and now, as young men, Frank’s lot in life is to keep Jerry Lee out of trouble. In the movie’s first minutes, Jerry Lee is involved in a hit-and-run accident, and so Frank jumps up and drives him out of town.

You may have seen movies like this. They all tend to have the same soundtrack, which consists of an acoustic guitar mournfully sounding through an echo chamber, alternating with an electric keyboard, also in an echo chamber, playing long chords that serve as an undertone. The effect is distancing, as if to say that whatever you’re seeing isn’t necessarily important in itself but emblematic of the human condition.

Set in 1990 for no particular reason, “The Motel Life” depicts a world of scruffiness and squalor, and nothing much happens, or at least the little that does happen doesn’t feel like much.

The central relationship is between the two brothers — the film is essentially the story of that relationship — but you’d have to be a very, very nice person to care about how it all works out for them.

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