Hounddog

Having lurched through a gantlet of Sundance jeers, recuts, and release delays, writer/director Deborah Kampmeier's Hounddog—at least as far as the press notes indicate (urgently)—now exists as a version different from the one that met such derision. One imagines, however, that the song—both the hip-swiveler of the title and the Southern Gothic story of FUBAR families, innocence, and, yes, child rape that it brackets—remains more or less the same. Dakota Fanning plays 12-year-old Lewellen, and while the role will test the patience of even the staunchest survival-parable lovers, Fanning's extraordinary poise finally trumps precocity. "I'm gonna kill my daddy one day," she declares in the first scene, and why not? Played by David Morse, he's an inconstant brute with a wardrobe full of wife-beaters, in case there was any doubt. The symbolism is as clobbering as the blows that send Lewellen's maybe-mommy (Robin Wright Penn) reeling: Snakes abound, notably in a grotesque, crotch-slithering dream sequence. Shot in mellow green and gold, Hounddog manages an engaging summer sweetness in its early scenes, as Lewellen plots to obtain a ticket to a local Elvis concert, but in the wake of the inadvertent betrayal that leads to her now-notorious rape (a sequence that, ironically, seems to have lost the horrific impact it needs), the film turns listless. By the time Lewellen gets tutored in the white-girl blues by a band of magical Negroes, it has fulfilled its risible potential.

 
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