Thursday, May 2, 2013

At Any Price

The square, out-of-time Dennis Quaid-Zac Efron father-son drama "At Any Price" throws together wildly disparate but overfamiliar elements, failing to generate traction with any of them.
Quaid plays Henry Whipple, a salesman for Liberty, a purveyor of genetically modified seeds that significantly enhance crop yields, who uses his product on his own Iowa family farm. He wants his son Dean (Efron) to follow in his footsteps, but Dean has the talent and ambition to pursue a career in auto racing. Dean's mom Irene (Kim Dickens) supports him and puts up with Henry's loveless trysts with an aimless local woman (Heather Graham). Dean has a quick temper and gets into it with several local boys, including the son of Henry's chief competitor for the Decatur County account. All is threatened when investigators from Liberty show up to pursue a tip that Henry's violated his agreement by reusing seeds from season to season.

"At Any Price" seems to have a sense for the slow rhythm of farm-town life, but doesn't convey it in a way that allows you to fall into step; there's too much artificiality, too much plot. Quaid's line readings - his entire physical carriage - feel stilted, like he's still playing the heavy in "Footloose." I was surprised - more than by any of the predictable plot points - by Efron's choice to take on this role; it feels callow, like just the sort of part he'd want to stop playing by now. And what will we ever do with Heather Graham? There was a time - about a dozen years ago - when I thought she might be the next big thing. (I liked her in "Sidewalks of New York," and loved her in a great little movie nobody saw called "Committed.") There's just nothing to this character but a sex object, and that made me sad.

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