From the outset, the movie bumbles into genre territory inhabited by superior specimens like John Dahl's Red Rock West, Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan, and the Coens' Fargo. Images of wintry fields and desolate small-town streets -- not to mention a moody minimalist score that feels directly indebted to Thomas Newman's music for American Beauty -- puts us in a mind for an existential fable, something those aforementioned movies delivered by way of complex characters nursing pent-up desires and grievances. Mindell and Murphy provide us with a potentially interesting collection of ne'er-do-wells, dreamers, and saps. But their material is too shallow to allow any of their creations to function as more than cogs in the story's clockwork plotting. And, for a movie that references setting in its very title (more for its cultural implications than for geographic accuracy), Milwaukee, Minnesota's sense of place feels as arbitrary as its characterizations, never venturing beyond the stale stereotypes of the provincial Midwest.
Albert Burroughs is a mentally impaired small-town schlub with the uncanny ability to "hear" fish. This gift -- or, rather, "plot hook" -- has turned him into an ice-fishing celebrity in his frigid Milwaukee suburb and flush with prize money from all the fishing competitions he's won. Upon the accidental death of his overbearing mother (Debra Monk), con artists promptly show up, eager to get their hands on Albert's hefty stash of cash. One of these is Tuey (Alison Folland), a scrappy blond who -- with her buffoonish, hypochondriac brother, Stan (Hank Harris), in tow--tries to work her feminine wiles on Albert. Meanwhile, sleazy traveling salesman Jerry James (Randy Quaid) gets his hooks into Albert by claiming to be his long-lost daddy. Jerry's paternal ploy might succeed were it not for the nagging presence of old coot Sean McNally (Bruce Dern), who shares a past with the boy as well as with Jerry that is not wholly unforeseen.
The rest of Milwaukee, Minnesota follows a stolid and predictable pattern as Tuey genuinely warms to Albert while Sean and Jerry duke it out over the boy's fate. All of it simply makes us wonder, "Who cares?" There is nothing distinctive going on here; from end-to-end, Milwaukee, Minnesota gives the impression that it was made by people with no particular point or attitude to convey, with nothing more on their minds than to find some God-forsaken excuse to waste film stock.
We might turn to the performances, but they too are about as lively and appealing as the dead fish Albert hauls up from holes bored in the ice. Troy Garity seems content to mold Albert after the insufferable tics, dead-eyed stares, and mealy-mouthing of Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man, while Alison Folland's wannabe femme fatale is about as wooden and unconvincing as the ditzy Z-grade molls found in 1930's programmers. That leaves us with the veterans Bruce Dern and Randy Quaid. Lately, though, Dern has boxed himself into playing eccentric codgers, and his McNally is hardly distinguishable from his performance in 2003's Monster. Thankfully, the filmmakers had Quaid's imposing frame to rest their movie on. Quaid's Jerry James may be a rehash of the noir hoodlum, but at least the actor looks like he's having fun. Quaid exudes such confidence that, when he's on-screen, the movie slows just to take him in. There is a combustible mix of menace and pathos behind Quaid's sad stare and whiskey-voiced delivery. We relish every bit of his personality because there's so little of it to be found elsewhere in this by-the-numbers, factory-assembled "indie."
The DVD adds a director's commentary and interview.
Run time: 95 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 21st December 2005
Box Office Worldwide: $17.4 thousand
Distributed by: Tartan Films
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 39%
Fresh: 13 Rotten: 20
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Allan Mindel
Producer: Michael J. Brody, Jeff Kirshbaum
Screenwriter: R.D. Murphy
Starring: Troy Garity as Albert Burriughs, Alison Folland as Tuey Stites, Randy Quaid as Jerry James, Bruce Dern as Sean McNally, Hank Harris as Stan Stites, Debra Monk as Edna Burroghs, Josh Brolin as Gary
Also starring: Jeff Kirshbaum