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Originally published April 16, 2009 at 4:20 PM | Page modified April 16, 2009 at 4:22 PM

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Movie review

Nick Nolte stands out in shoddy "Mysteries of Pittsburgh"

"The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" is an underdeveloped adaptation of a Michael Chabon novel about a naive boy-man navigating his way to adulthood. Nick Nolte, playing his father, is easily the best part of the film.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2 stars

"The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,"with Nick Nolte, Jon Foster, Sienna Miller, Peter Sarsgaard, Mena Suvari. Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. 96 minutes. Rated R for language, violence, nudity. Varsity.

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Shoddy and never credible, "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" is an ungainly coming-of-age drama based on a (hopefully much better) novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon.

A familiar cast including Nick Nolte, Peter Sarsgaard, Mena Suvari and Sienna Miller help brighten the story's clichés about a naive boy-man navigating his way to adulthood through a crowd of rogues, a despotic parent, a neurotic lover and an elusive blonde. But even interesting actors can't keep "Mysteries" from descending into self- parody and confusion.

Nolte is easily the best part of the film, playing an organized-crime lord named Bechstein who is also the solicitous if impatient father of the diffident Art (Jon Foster of "The Door in the Floor"). Nolte does much with his character's brief and intermittent appearances, exploring the jagged edges between Bechstein's limited capacity to love, stormy temperament and tragic secrecy.

Meeting with a morose, taciturn Art over monthly steak dinners in a classy restaurant, Bechstein quiets the dining room one night by loudly ordering his son — displaying a rare if unsuccessful glimmer of independence — to take his seat. It's writer- director Rawson Marshall Thurber's clearest and most authentic relationship scene.

Alas, Bechstein vanishes for long stretches while Art spends his post-college summer avoiding a clinging girlfriend (Suvari in a thankless role) while becoming involved with a charming, cynical, bisexual and utterly underwritten thug named Cleveland (Sarsgaard).

Cleveland's girlfriend, Jane (Miller), makes a soulful if largely wished-for connection with the hapless Art that endures through her days of boozy dissoluteness (which somehow don't interfere with her rising career as an accomplished violinist).

An early scene set in a music club has, at least for a minute or two, an attractive impulsiveness, hinting we may be in for a "Jules et Jim"-like love triangle that reflects changing personal experiences over time. In fact, that does happen in "Mysteries," but in a very compressed and inchoate way, built around one bore (Art), one poorly conceived echo of a young man's feminine ideal (Jane), and one rather by-the-numbers rebel with a perfunctory and inexplicable death wish (Cleveland).

Tom Keogh:

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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