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GOT PLOT? MAYBE A SCRIPT WOULD HAVE GOTTEN IN THE WHEY.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

The whimsical romantic fantasy from New Zealand ``The Price of Milk'' was filmed, its director Harry Sinclair proudly declares, without the benefit of a script, a shooting schedule or a preproduction phase.

What can I tell you? It shows.

Starting out as kind of a sexy, bucolic fairy tale, ``The Price of Milk'' ends up as an incoherent, patience-trying mess. The point has something to do with how hard it is for even the truest lovers to trust one another, but it gets hopelessly sidetracked. There are overly cute comedy bits and frantic efforts on the actors' parts to figure out exactly what on Earth any given scene is meant to be about.

Sinclair says the movie was inspired by music, so he tried to make it play that way (and indeed, the Moscow Symphony provides a rich and lovely score). But like all but the most ingenious symphonies rely on thematic through-lines, even a film that's trying to work outside traditional narrative constraints needs some unifying structure.

Young lovers Lucinda (Danielle Cormack) and Rob (Karl Urban) live on an idyllic, lushly green dairy farm with their 117 milk cows. They enjoy such activities as bathing together in an outdoor tub along with their dirty dishes and trying to get their agoraphobic dog to come out of the cardboard box he insists on running around inside. Oh, and Lucinda collects baby shoes.

When Karl proposes, she inexplicably begins to have doubts about their relationship. On the advice of an untrustworthy friend, Drosophilia (Willa O'Neill), Lucinda decides to test Karl's devotion by exhibiting increasingly bizarre behavior. When a mysterious extended family of Maoris steal her beloved, symbolic quilt, she trades them the cows to get it back. This puts even more strain on her domestic situation.

Other things happen, some of it twee (there's a bend along a country road where vehicles flip over on their tops with such regularity that their occupants can usually be found calmly smoking dope upside down inside them), some of it insulting (those Maoris turn out to be yet another bunch of wise, magical dark-skinned people moviemakers believe were put on the planet to guide emotionally confused white folks), most of it quite tiresome. Acting is pretty much of the the-weirder-things-get, the- wider-the-eyes-go school.

``The Price of Milk'' itself is a movie that becomes dreamier and dreamier as it goes along, but never manages to cross the threshold into sublime, psychologically loaded surrealism. It fails to rise above the level of peculiar. With its sweeping New Zealand vistas and fumbled attempts at resonant emotional allegory, it often seems like a Jane Campion movie that's been lobotomized.

``THE PRICE OF MILK''

(Not rated: sex, drug use, language, nudity, mild violence)

The stars: Danielle Cormack, Karl Urban, Willa O'Neill, Michael Lawrence, Rangi Motu.

Behind the scenes: Directed by Harry Sinclair. Produced by Fiona Copland. Released by Lot 47 Films.

Running time: One hour, 27 minutes.

Playing: Music Hall, Beverly Hills.

Our rating: One and one half stars.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo: Lucinda (Danielle Cormack) struggles to stay afloat in a pool of milk, in ``The Price of Milk.''
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Mar 23, 2001
Words:526
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