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The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

Dullness on the Edge of Town

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

For all the youthful hedonism and reckless behavior on display in Rawson Marshall Thurber’s Mysteries of Pittsburgh, his strangely stillborn adaptation of Michael Chabon’s first novel, there’s something sorely missing -- a sense of danger, perhaps, or a hint of voyeuristic intrigue. All the necessary ingredients are in place -- the sex, the drugs, even a hardened crime boss played with requisite menace by a leathery Nick Nolte, but they seem positively impotent in a coming-of-age tale wrought with painfully familiar melodrama.

It begins as so many other, more satisfying accounts of post-collegiate malaise often do, with a summer of meandering discontent. Back from school and eager to savor his last gasps of freedom before adulthood begins in earnest, Art (Jon Foster, in a turn unlikely to engage even the most charitable of critics) spurns the mafia life favored by his father (Nolte) to work at a discount bookstore. The benefits are considerable -- Art enjoys a life of minimal responsibility and frequent but mostly passionless sex with his boss (Mena Suvari) -- yet he yearns for something more.

He finds it, or so he thinks, in Jane (Sienna Miller), a pretty, free-spirited musician with a boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard, the movie's lone highlight) whose sadistic streak is only partially masked by his aggressive charm. Art recounts his infatuation with both through a series of increasingly intrusive voiceovers, though the love triangle is short-lived. By summer's end, professing to have learned many valuable lessons but seeming as much of a blank, blandly uninteresting slate as ever, Art is ready to move on. So are we.