3.5 Stars
Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 109 minutes
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Jenny Graves’ (Ashley Laurence) life must have sucked pretty badly for the attractive single mom to drag her teenaged son Green (Bret Harrison) and his younger brother Jay (Lucas Till) all the way from Detroit to her hometown — and the apparent inbred redneck capitol of the world — Fairfield, Alabama. While Jenny settles right in, quickly taking up with a dangerously hulking local piece of drunken white trash, Earl Knight (Kevin Gage), her sons have a much tougher time.

Green, a horror movie geek with aspirations of, and a definite talent for becoming a Hollywood special effects make-up artist, sets his sights on escaping a town in which he clearly doesn’t belong. Despite Earl’s brusque and sadistic insults, Green pours his heart and soul into working on Fairfield’s annual Halloween haunted house in order to use his work on it in his portfolio. Even when he meets Angevin Duvet (Laura Prepon), a mysterious beauty with an even more mysterious “acting” background, working the counter at the local video store, her considerable charms inspire more than distract him.

Jay, meanwhile, seeks refuge in the local evangelical church, an institution under the influence of Angevin’s addled, Bible-thumping mom (Shannon Eubanks), which doesn’t exactly appreciate Green’s obviously Satanic skills. Thus, with Earl, the Law in the form of good ol’ boy Deputy Dale (Hal Sparks), and the Lord stacked up against him, what are the odds of Green getting’ the girl and going Hollywood?

Robert Hall has fashioned a frightening portrayal of the Bible Belt Deep South in “Lightning Bug,” one which this Yankee refugee dearly hopes is due more to lazy writing stereotypes rather than Red State socio-economic accuracy…but I doubt it.

The entire cast of this film hams it up with great relish and with a subtlety that makes soap opera actors look positively reserved by comparison. The film does make a spirited, if shallow defense of horror aficionados and Halloween while making the smug, morally superior fascists who’d ban such “pagan” activities look like the killjoy spoilsports they are.

Still, one can never quite take Green — and thus, this film — seriously. Whoever wrote Green’s character is clearly projecting his own post-adolescent, post “Dungeons and Dragons” fantasies on the young man. (For further proof, kindly note the plethora of “Fangoria” swag on Green’s bedroom walls and the never-believable relationship with his way-out-of-geek-league girlfriend, Angevin.)

The viewer will really like Green. They’ll think he’s a good guy and all…but they just won’t care that much about the intricacies of latex mask design. More damning to “Lightning Bug,” however, is that although the characters here face some heavy (melo)drama and even tragedy, there’s never much real suspense as to whether Green will be stuck chasing lightning bugs in Fairfield or bright lights in Los Angeles.

Even Fairfield’s married first cousins can figure that one out, and this paint-by-numbers drama suffers as a result.

Posted on October 25, 2004 in Reviews by

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