Quirky romance is usually writer-director Cameron Crowe’s strong suit (Almost Famous, Jerry McGuire, Say Anything), but he seems to have lost his flair with Elizabethtown. Orlando Bloom stars as Drew Baylor, a young man working for a mega shoe company in Oregon, who just had the career failure of a lifetime and learns his father has passed away. Drew embarks on a journey to his father’s hometown to claim the body; on the way he meets flight attendant Claire (Kirsten Dunst), whom Crowe sets up as something of a guardian angel, swooping in to make everything right.

The film is not without sweetness or originality — two qualities Crowe never seems to struggle with — yet the story is all over the place, with so many random tangents one wonders what was left on the cutting room floor.

Bloom also disappoints. Dreamy or not, the heartthrob has relegated himself to a period-piece ghetto, spending too much time speaking in Elvish, marauding on horseback and swashbuckling (Lord of the Rings, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, or Pirates of the Caribbean). Tucked into contemporary clothing and speaking with an American accent, he seems uncomfortable, delivering some lines in a manner better suited to a member of the Fellowship of the Ring, rather than a mere mortal. When Drew stands up to his overbearing Southern relatives, it sounds more like he’s preparing the troops for an Orc invasion. Dunst, however, is delightful. She’s always a sparkler, and as Claire she serves up bits of homegrown wisdom without being overly countrified. Unlike Bloom, she seems perfectly at ease here, flirting her way through the movie with impish charm.

While Crowe loses sight of the big picture, he’s better with the details. Crowe is something of a master of making small observations about relationships that are truly marvelous. Drew and Claire, for example, embark on an overnight marathon phone call, and Crowe captures the feeling of getting so wrapped up in discovering each other that you’re afraid to hang up and lose the magic of the moment. Crowe also supplies one of his signature big romantic epiphanies, setting up the kind of grand gesture that should make sentimentalists swoon and skeptics roll their eyes (think Jerry McGuire’s “You had me at hello” scene). However, Crowe is so off his game here, figure on more eyes rolling than swooning for Elizabethtown.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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