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Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson

Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson

“BIG STONE GAP” My rating: C

103 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Much star power has been brought to bear on “Big Stone Gap,” writer/director Adriana Trigiani’s adaptation of her best-selling series of semiautobiographical books set in her childhood home of Big Stone Gap, W. Va.

So why isn’t this film any better?

Perhaps for fans of Trigiani (The Shoemaker’s Wife, the Viola series for young adults) the film will be a welcome opportunity to see on the big screen beloved characters from the printed page.

For this newbie the film was mildly (but only mildly) entertaining and mostly forgettable.

Set in the early 1970s (and actually shot in the real Big Stone Gap), the picture stars Ashley Judd as Ave Maria Mulligan, operator of the local drug store and at age 40 widely considered an old maid.

(One must regard as suspect any movie that promotes Ashley Judd as an old maid.)

Shortly after the film begins Ave’s mother — an Italian immigrant — dies, leaving behind a letter revealing that Ave is the love child of a romance back in the Old Country. Mom was pregnant upon arrival in the U.S.A. during WWII and wed the first man who showed an interest.

Anyone wanna bet that before this story plays out Ave’s mysterious biological father makes an appearance?

Meanwhile Ave has to deal with the hassles of directing the annual town pageant, an affair that comes off like a bargain-basement version of Branson’s “The Little Shepherd of the Hills.”

And there’s also a visit to the burg by U.S. Senate candidate John Warner and his movie star wife, Elizabeth Taylor.

Ave’s longtime beau is Theodore (John Benjamin Hickey), an aspiring and ego-driven thespian who has never consummated their relationship. Hmmmm. Theodore could have been the inspiration for “Waiting for Guffman.”

Meanwhile Ave is drawn to her childhood friend, the hunky coal miner Jack (Patrick Wilson), who has his hands full with a predatory divorcee (Jane Krakowski).

Other townspeople — all eccentric to one degree or another — are portrayed by Jenna Elfman, Whoopi Goldberg, Anthony LaPaglia, Jasmine Guy, and Judith Ivey.

This is the first feature from Trigiani, a veteran TV producer (“The Cosby Show,” “A Different World”), and while she may be intimate with the material she lacks the directing skill to bring it to life.

“Big Stone Gap” clunks along, making a stab at humor here and a grab at pathos there.  But despite the large and attractive cast, it never gets out of low gear.

| Robert W. Butler

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