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Review: "Country Strong" Offers Heapin' Helping of Cliches

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Gwyneth Paltrow is a country star trying to get her life and career back on track with the help of an up-and-coming songwriter. Co-stars Garret Hedlund, Leighton Meester and Tim McGraw. (Published Friday, Jan 7, 2011)

    "Country Strong," is a bit like a deep-fried Southern meal: It looks good and tastes great, but offers little in the way of healthy sustenance.

    The film stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Kelly Canter, an out-of-control alcoholic country superstar trying to rebuild her career after a shattering tragedy. With a beauty queen-turned-singer ("Gossip Girl's" Leighton Meester) nipping at her heels and a crumbling marriage to her husband/manager (real life country star Tim McGraw as the sole lead character who doesn't sing), she hooks up, in more ways than one, with a rising singer-songwriter (Garrett Hedlund, continuing his charge to the top of the A-list) so they can chart his ascent and her comeback.

    Considering the starring lineup and the fact that Paltrow is responsible for one of our favorite movie anthems, a remake of "Cruisin'" with Huey Lewis from the "Duets" soundtrack (terrible flick, great song), we couldn't wait to go country, ya'll.

    But the film quickly devolves into clichés and movie-of-the-week territory as it careens toward an ending no one will see coming after all those spunky commercials of Paltrow belting out tunes and doing the Achy Breaky Heart shuffle.

    Felled by a one-two punch of supremely misleading marketing and a screenplay that is at times maudlin and disjointed, writer-director Shana Feste was plagued by similar unevenness in her previous effort, "The Greatest," a film which flirted with melodrama but was saved by tremendous performances. The same is true of "Country Strong."

    Paltrow, drenched in diamonds and swaddled in fur in an attempt to prettify the outside as her insides putrefy, does some of her best work in years. She plays Kelly with heartbreaking sensitivity and captivating charm, a modern day Judy Garland. But the stage ultimately belongs to Hedlund. The 26-year-old, who dunked a toe into his leading man potential in "TRON: Legacy," emerges from "Country Strong" a full-blown heartthrob, equal parts Brad Pitt’s rascally "Thelma and Louise" drifter and Kris Kristofferson circa 1976.

    Despite its shortcomings, thanks to great acting, fantastic music, Feste's unabashed earnestness and the catchiest title song since "Ghostbusters," "Country Strong" reminds us of Billy Ray Cyrus' mullet; some love it, some hate it, and some ridicule it. But for good or bad, you won't soon forget it.