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Movie Review: 'Imaginary Heroes' is a tired, recycled family drama

Published April 1, 2005 12:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Imaginary Heroes

Nothing extraordinary in this retread of "Ordinary People" and other family dramas.

Rated R for substance abuse, sexual content, language and some violence;

112 minutes.

Opening today at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.

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"Imaginary Heroes" puts the test to Tolstoy's observation that "every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

The Travis family, when the movie begins, is unhappy for the same reason the family in "Ordinary People" was unhappy: The eldest son and brightest star, Matt (Kip Pardue), commits suicide. And, as in "Ordinary People," the altered family dynamic revolves around a perpetually bitter mom (Sigourney Weaver), an emotionally distant dad (Jeff Daniels) and a younger son, Tim (Emile Hirsch), who feels - or is assumed by others to be - guilty for his older brother's death.

Writer-director Dan Harris (who co-wrote "X2: X-Men United") then runs Tim and the Travises through the dysfunctional-family checklist: teen sexual discovery, middle-age sexual frigidity, revelations of adultery and betrayal, and copious amounts of drug abuse (for Tim, the drugs of choice are Ecstasy and booze; for Mom, it's marijuana).

Everything - the third-act medical crisis, Jeff Daniels' umpteenth portrayal of an ineffectual father, and the lurid "surprises" that go to explain everyone's behavior at the end - feels recycled from other dramas. Even the script structure, which runs through the seasons (complete with title cards that declare "Winter" or "Spring" or "Summer") to symbolize the family's downfall and revival, is a trite rehash.

Weaver's fiery performance, the best part of the movie, is not too far off from her work in "The Ice Storm." But she gives her all to enliven the perfunctory gloom of "Imaginary Heroes," which almost qualifies as an act of heroism.