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`LOCUSTS': A MOVIEGOER'S PLAGUE.

Byline: Amy Dawes Daily News Film Critic

Vince Vaughn made a hit in ``Swingers,'' and held his own in ``The Lost World: Jurassic Park.''

Ashley Judd is making a splash in ``Kiss the Girls.''

Those might be reasons enough to see ``The Locusts,'' but otherwise, this oddball heartland horror story is going to have a hard time finding an audience.

The story, by first-time writer-director John Patrick Kelly, is set in rural Kansas, 1960. Vaughn plays a hunky drifter from Kansas City who turns up at a feedlot, looking for work and a place to stay.

He's warned right away that the widow who runs the place (Kate Capshaw) seduces every man around. This might be a pleasant prospect, except that Delilah Potts, as played by Capshaw, is about as much fun as an IRS audit.

Bitter and hostile - and bitter and hostile - this bourbon-swilling, chain-smoking predator lays her single card on the table and keeps it there in a performance that's got all the range of a doorbell.

That makes it all the harder to figure out why Vaughn, as Clay Hewitt, stands around passively soaking up the abuse. The tall, bland-faced actor has an agreeable screen presence but isn't well-served by such a dopey role.

Judd (``Kiss the Girls,'' ``Norma Jean & Marilyn''), who plays a local girl with the hots for Clay, isn't doing herself any favors either in yet another role that presents her as an easy sexual conquest. To her credit, though, she does bring some edge and dimension to it.

Kelly, the filmmaker, tries to take the story in a sentimental direction. He has Clay, who's on the run from trouble and presumably fatherless, take a protective interest in the widow's son, an introverted youth recently sprung from a mental institution.

His mother treats the trembling 21-year-old (Jeremy Davies) as a house servant. Clay decides to teach the boy a thing or two about becoming a man, and winds up screwing up the lesson horribly.

Meanwhile, Kelly loads the scenario with dreadful family secrets involving suicide, incest and worse, until it all adds up to a kind of overheated Southern Gothic melodrama with a decidedly secondhand feel.

All kinds of half-baked influences come blowing through, from Truman Capote to ``Sling Blade'' and ``The Spitfire Grill'' to ``Hud'' (Vaughn keeps trying to do a Paul Newman imitation).

So many scenes involve sweat, bourbon and the seductive curl of cigarette smoke that you begin to suspect that the movie was financed by the tobacco industry, which would be the only explanation that makes sense.

And the scenes set on the feedlot (a holding area where cattle are fattened for slaughter) give us explicit footage of such charming practices as the lopping off of horns - down to the blood spurting out of the severed appendage - and the castration of bulls. These may be the facts of life in Kansas, but it makes for a questionable concept in entertainment. It's enough to turn you vegetarian - it really is.

At one point, nasty old Delilah Potts goes to work on one of the bulls with a penknife and a bucket, just to prove a point to her son. Wow. You can't get much more explicit in your symbolism than that.

THE FACTS

The film: ``The Locusts'' (R; language, sexuality).

The stars: Vince Vaughn, Ashley Judd, Kate Capshaw, Jeremy Davies, Paul Rudd.

Behind the scenes: Written and directed by John Patrick Kelly. Produced by Brad Krevoy, Steve Stabler and Bradley Thomas. Released by MGM Distribution on behalf of Orion Classics.

Running time: Two hours, two minutes.

Playing: Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood; Landmark's Samuel Goldwyn Pavilion Cinema, West Los Angeles.

Our rating: One Star.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Introverted son/servant (Jeremy Davis) and mother/seductress (Kate Capshaw) don't get along very well in ``The Locusts.''
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Oct 3, 1997
Words:635
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