Desert Blue [1998]

Baxter, California, is the fictional home of the world's largest ice cream cone; that's where cable TV starlet Skye (Kate Hudson) gets stuck with her father (John Heard), a professor studying roadside attractions, when a truck carrying the secret ingredient of a new cola overturns and is suspected of being environmentally hazardous. Desert Blue's wisp of a plot centers around this possible toxic spill and a suspicious motel fire, but the heart of the movie lies in the aimless but cheerful activities of the town's teens, played by Brendan Sexton III (Welcome to the Dollhouse), Sara Gilbert (from TV's Roseanne), and Christina Ricci (The Opposite of Sex). After the EPA quarantines the town, Skye finds herself making friends with the local kids. These kids may be eccentrics--Ricci's character builds bombs and her boyfriend (Casey Affleck) is obsessed with racing all-terrain vehicles--but their quirks spring from the boredom that afflicts all isolated small towns; they just refuse to succumb. The movie's second greatest strength arises from the landscape. The movie doesn't make the desert majestic, as a John Ford Western might. Instead, the scrubby underbrush and blowing sand seem almost intimate; even if you've never lived in the Southwest, Desert Blue makes the countryside seem like home. It's a modest movie, but it makes modesty a virtue. --Bret Fetzer

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