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ACTOR RINGS UP PAST IN `KNOCKING'.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

"How'd you get to be such a mess, Howard?" The question, asked of the emotionally stunted main character in "Don't Come Knocking," is one of many the film raises without exactly answering.

Directed by Wim Winders and written by Sam Shepard (who also plays Howard), this lonesome cowpoke story has its moments of visual beauty, but fails to capture the magic of the first Wenders-Shepard collaboration, 1984's intimate Western "Paris, Texas."

As with that first film, "Don't Come Knocking" deals with the odyssey of a spiritually dead man trying to find himself. In this case, Howard is an aging movie star, a leading man who has staked his career on Westerns (given the time frame, this doesn't make a lick of sense; you can only accept it and chalk it up to Wenders' love and fascination with the American West), but realizes, belatedly, that "maybe I missed everything, that I threw everything away."

So Howard rides off the set of his latest movie and heads to Elko, Nev., meeting his mother (Eva Marie Saint), a woman he hasn't seen or spoken to for some 30 years. Given that distance, you'd expect some emotional fireworks, but Mom welcomes her prodigal son back home in such a matter-of-fact way, you'd think he'd just gone out for a quart of milk.

This strange lack of attention to the basic details of the story and its relationships certainly doesn't put you in the middle of Howard's late-life crisis. And Shepard the actor doesn't offer much insight into the wholly unsympathetic man that Shepard the writer has created. As we follow Howard from Nevada to Butte, Mont., Wenders establishes an evocative mood, his creates wide-screen compositions of a dying town mirroring Howard's despairing loneliness. But pretty pictures can only carry the picturefilm so far.

Howard meets the ghosts of his past (Shepard's longtime partner, Jessica Lange, turns up in a role reminiscent of her work in Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers") and discovers some things he didn't know. There's a fleeting recognition that what he has missed all these years is a home, but little sense that this realization is anything more than self-pity, a long-overdue, morning-after lament that will disappear after the next bottle.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp(at)dailynews.com

DON'T COME KNOCKING - Two and one half stars

(R: language, brief nudity)

Starring: Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange, Eva Marie Saint.

Director: Wim Wenders.

Running time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Playing: Laemmle's Town Center 5 in Encino; Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena; ArcLight in Hollywood; Laemmle's Monica in Santa Monica.

In a nutshell: Emotionally dead actor (Sam Shepard) journeys into his past to find where it all went wrong. Second collaboration between writer Shepard and director Wim Wenders doesn't possess the emotional truth of 1984's "Paris, Texas."

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Photo:

Jessica Lange, left, and Sam Shepard get reacquainted in the wandering Western actor's talke
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 17, 2006
Words:487
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