'Welcome to the Rileys': Grieving dad and lap dancer

Kristen Stewart (left), James Gandolfini, and Melissa Leo in the flat and predictable drama of cheap redemption and earnestness.
Kristen Stewart (left), James Gandolfini, and Melissa Leo in the flat and predictable drama of cheap redemption and earnestness.
Posted: December 03, 2010

When actors are so thoroughly linked to a specific role - Kristen Stewart's Bella Swan, say, or James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano - any project that offers the chance to try something different had better be good, or else.

Welcome to the Rileys is the or else.

Flat and predictable, with a script (by Ken Hixon) full of cheap redemption and gloomy earnestness, Welcome to the Rileys - directed by Jake Scott, son of Sir Ridley - opens in the sad Indianapolis home of Doug (Gandolfini) and Lois (Melissa Leo), married for nearly 30 years and thrown into torporous grief by the death of their 15-year-old daughter. (See Rabbit Hole, with Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, coming to a theater near you!)

Doug moves through his days like a zombie - a zombie who still plays cards with his pals and cheats on his wife with a diner waitress. And then he'll go into the garage, light up a smoke, and sob.

Lois, meanwhile, just sits at home, staring at the walls.

On a business trip to New Orleans (he owns a plumbing supply firm), Doug wanders into a strip club - and into the unhappy world of a runaway teenage lap-dancer and prostitute who calls herself Mallory. That would be Stewart, wearing dark eye shadow and a look of tough vulnerability. Stewart gets to talk dirty, and Gandolfini gets to use a Southern accent (Doug must be from South Indianapolis), and neither is convincing.

Of course, Doug doesn't want sex, he wants his daughter back. And Mallory (or Allison, when she fesses up to her real name) bears an uncanny resemblance. And then he decides he's not going home for a while, and moves into her run-down apartment. Surrogate father-daughter business ensues, which isn't easy when your surrogate daughter is servicing a seamy parade of male customers.

And then Lois decides to pay a visit, and that whole can of worms gets opened.

Welcome to the Rileys would have to have been written with a much sharper, surer hand for Gandolfini, Stewart, and Leo to get away with this stuff, to make it feel real. But as things stand - and as Scott directs (with little of the stylistic flash of his father) - Doug and Mallory (and Lois) wear their traits, and tics, on their sleeves.

It's as if Tony Soprano and Bella Swan had landed the two leads in somebody's amateur theater company, and this is what the lucky audience gets.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/

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