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At long last, "The Dakota Fanning Rape Movie" has arrived in theaters. And, as anyone could have predicted about a movie that generated so much negative buzz for its depiction of the rape of a young girl in rural Alabama during the 1950s, Hounddog is entirely underwhelming. Revolving around dank-haired Lewellen (Fanning), Hounddog is one of those breathless, overheated melodramas about the South that features a father-turned-simpleton after being struck by lightning, murky greenish photography that makes the film look as if it's been shot under a bayou, plenty of sweaty rooms in dingy houses that have the grimy chic of a fashion spread, and a feral lead performance by Fanning as a tough little girl almost defeated by the casual cruelty of the people around her. Fanning's performance becomes part of Hounddog's undoing. Instead of the giddiness we get from fellow young thespian Abigail Breslin or the prickly vulnerability of Jodie Foster back in her teen heyday, all Fanning gives us is a steely determination. Like early Meryl Streep performances, Fanning is so intent on nailing the emotions that she completely ignores the character she's portraying. So all we get is a series of chilly, perfectly modulated emotional highs and lows, shrieks of joy and screams of frustration-and nothing to bind her performance into a cohesive whole. Banished to her religious grandmother's care (Piper Laurie, reprising her Carrie role in a minor key), Lewellen spends more time with her father (David Morse) in his old shack-despite the fact that he's the kind of man who spends his time drinking, hitting his girlfriend (Robin Wright Penn) and shooting Lewellen's old dog. But Lewellen finds comfort in the musical stylings of one Elvis Presley, performing his song "Hound Dog" at the drop of a hat. But then comes the day when an older boy demands Lewellen to do her "Hound Dog" dance for him naked, as payment for an Elvis ticket. Too much of a tomboy to bother with modesty, Lewellen complies, and in a hilariously clichéd thunderstorm, "The Dakota Fanning Rape Movie" is born. To the credit of screenwriter and director Deborah Kampmeier, the whole thing is presented as decorously as possible, practically 1940s in its bashfulness. Later, of course, we're treated to Lewellen withdrawing into herself until the darkness in her soul calls forth all the snakes in the area to slither over her windowsill and into her bed. And barely have we recovered from such absurdity than Lewellen is having a blues session with an African-American band, quietly wailing her own, new version of "Hound Dog." And ta-dah! The hole in her soul is now on its way to healing. But as over-the-top as Hounddog's script is, Fanning's no-nonsense performance makes it even more laughable. Grimly singing, wriggling and yelling, Fanning makes Lewellen into a white-trash reproduction of herself: all work and no fun. When Elvis drives past and blows her a kiss, Fanning doesn't sound like Lewellen screaming for Elvis; it's more like she's imagining the Oscar nomination such a gritty role could earn her. Too bad she overestimated Hounddog. -- Hounddog Directed by Deborah Kampmeier, Running Time:  93 min. --

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