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Originally published Friday, April 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Campbell Scott movie goes too far "Off the Map"

Few movies deal at length with deep depression. Campbell Scott's "Off the Map," despite its many charming moments, demonstrates why. It's so focused on...

Special to The Seattle Times

Few movies deal at length with deep depression. Campbell Scott's "Off the Map," despite its many charming moments, demonstrates why. It's so focused on the subject that the downer mood becomes distressingly contagious.

The script by Joan Ackermann (based on her play) revolves around two depressed people: Charley Groden (Sam Elliott), who has dropped out of the1970s rat race to live in the New Mexico desert, and William Gibbs (Jim True-Frost), an IRS auditor who turns up to investigate Charley's refusal to register for tax payments.

Charley and his wife, Arlene (Joan Allen), and daughter Bo (Valentina de Angelis) survive on $5,000 a year, so why bother filing? William, who has been depressed since he witnessed his mother's suicide as a child, is seduced by their lifestyle, forgets about his job and sticks around for a few years.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer 2.5 stars

"Off the Map," with Joan Allen, Sam Elliott. Directed by Campbell Scott, from a screenplay by Joan Ackermann. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 for nudity, thematic elements. Metro.

Much of the movie deals with Arlene's attempts to cheer up Charley, who hides in the outhouse and weeps easily, and to nurse William, who collapses when one of the family's honey bees stings him. After he turns feverish and she takes care of him for several days, he declares that he loves her.

This announcement, which might have been threatening, is instead quite endearing. So is the movie for its first hour or so. Scott and Ackermann appear to be setting the stage for a modern variation on "You Can't Take It With You," with its house full of eccentric dropouts who function best when they're hanging out together.

Allen's Arlene comes off as both whimsical and pragmatic, even when she's applying too much pressure on the reluctant Charley to take mood-altering drugs. De Angelis is vibrant as the impatient Bo, who narrates the story in the voice of her adult self (Amy Brenneman).

Unafraid to shed tears and admit their characters' vulnerabilities, Elliott and True-Frost work wonders with a script that ultimately doesn't know where to take them.

Bogged down with subplots about Bo's credit-card follies, William's hidden artistic talents and the marriage of Charley's best friend, the movie loses momentum and seems to end several times. It's a nice try, but it runs out of steam.

John Hartl:

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