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Gandolfini’s Hillbilly Twang; Teeming ‘Hornet’s Nest’: Movies

James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart in "Welcome to the Rileys." Gandolfini plays an Indianapolis plumbing contractor whose wife (Melissa Leo) has become a shut-in since their daughter died in a car crash. Photographer: Patti Perret/Samuel Goldwyn Films via Bloomberg

Oct. 30 (Bloomberg) -- “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” opens with tattooed computer hacker Lisbeth Salander lying in a hospital bed with a bullet in her head.

Salander recovers, but the third and final Swedish film based on Stieg Larsson’s trilogy of best-selling crime novels remains comatose for almost 2 1/2 hours.

Explaining the convoluted plot is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded. All I can say is that it involves government corruption so massive it makes Watergate look like a parking ticket.

Crusading magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is determined to expose the whole mess, even if it means losing his editor/lover Erika (Lena Endre), getting raided by police and being targeted by assassins in a Stockholm bar.

Salander (Noomi Rapace) also has her hands full. In addition to facing trial for three murders, she must confront the shrink who had her committed to a mental institution and battle her thuggish half-brother in an abandoned warehouse. In the latter scene, she wields a nail gun in a way you won’t find in any instruction manual.

“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” from Music Box Films, is playing across the U.S. Swedish, with English subtitles. Rating: **

‘The Rileys’

James Gandolfini’s Southern accent in “Welcome to the Rileys” sounds like a bad imitation of a hillbilly. It’s one of several false notes in this downbeat drama about a runaway stripper and a couple dealing with the loss of their teenage daughter.

Gandolfini plays Doug Riley, an Indianapolis plumbing contractor whose wife Lois (Melissa Leo) has become a shut-in since their daughter died in a car crash. When he meets 17-year-old stripper Mallory (Kristen Stewart) during a business trip to New Orleans, it awakens his paternal instincts and he tries to turn her life around.

Leo, acclaimed for her hard-bitten characters in “Frozen River” and TV’s “Homicide: Life on the Street,” plays an emotionally fragile woman who blames herself for her daughter’s death. Stewart, best-known as the dreamy small-town girl who falls in love with a vampire in the “Twilight” series, is a cynical lost soul who initially resists Doug’s attempts to help her. (Doug moves into her grungy apartment, cleans it up and fines her for cursing.)

No Henry Higgins

Except for Leo, who gives her melancholy character surprising resilience, the curious casting doesn’t pay off. It’s fine for Gandolfini to show his softer side after playing a vicious mobster on “The Sopranos,” but he’s miscast in the Henry Higgins role. And Stewart’s raw, vulnerable stripper is a stereotype that offers no surprises.

The best moments occur after Lois finally leaves her house and drives to New Orleans to join her husband. When Lois meets Mallory, whose mom died in a car accident when she was a child, she bonds with the girl over their shared grief. They go shopping together and Lois explains why she’s so guilt-ridden over her daughter’s death.

The film is directed by Jake Scott, whose father Ridley received Oscar nominations for directing “Thelma & Louise,” “Gladiator” and “Black Hawk Down.” The younger Scott is a prominent music-video maker who still has a lot to learn about the rhythm of a feature film.

“Welcome to the Rileys,” from Samuel Goldwyn Films, is playing in New York, Boston and Los Angeles. Rating: *1/2


What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at rwarner1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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