H e flies a helicopter, speaks four languages and hates computers ? not the usual background for a movie director. Reverge Anselmo isn't a usual guy, though. A rich kid who came from a prominent media family, Anselmo was also a Marine, an experience he used to write "Stateside" (2004), a quirky, well-acted love story set in 1980.

Our story begins in Hollywood, where we meet our troubled heroine, starlet Dori Lawrence (Rachael Leigh Cook). Dori has been in several movies and sings in a popular local band. She's on her way up. Sadly, Dori also is suffering from the early stages of schizophrenia, an illness which will soon derail her promising career.

Dori is fired from a kid's musical after throwing a tantrum over "transvestites on monkey bars" and later cracks up onstage in concert, babbling about vibrations in Jello. On the advice of her manager, Dori decides to go back home to Connecticut to rest. Dori needs a lot more than rest, though.

Mark Deloach (Jonathan Tucker) is a spoiled rich kid who lives in Dori's hometown. After a night of drinking, Mark and one of his high school buddies drag their attractive classmate Sue Dubois (Agnes Bruckner) out of the back seat of her boyfriend's car and into their own. Moments later, speeding away, Mark plows into another car.

"This is bad," his buddy says. That's an understatement.

While Mark and his friend are barely scratched, the crash knocked out most of Sue's teeth and almost killed the driver of the other car ? Father Concuff (Ed Begley, Jr.), the principal of Mark's high school.

Mark's dad Gil (Joe Mantegna) has enough money and connections to make sure his son will stay out of prison. Instead, Mark is given a stiffer sentence. He must join the Marines and earn an honorable discharge. It's torture, especially under Staff Sergeant Skeer (Val Kilmer), who's been ordered to make it extra-tough on jailbird Mark. Still, Mark makes it through boot camp and returns home on leave to try to make amends.

Father Concuff, now in a wheelchair, is understandably bitter. Sue is, too. She went a bit crazy after her mother (Carrie Fisher) discovered pornographic letters Sue had written and was confined to a mental hospital. "Get out of here!" Sue screams when Mark tries to visit her there. He quickly leaves, but not before noticing Sue's roommate, Dori Lawrence. Mark is instantly smitten. So is Dori.

It's an unlikely love affair, which makes "Stateside" all the more watchable, despite its somewhat wandering script and lack of a solid ending. Anselmo says his script (which he wrote by hand) is semi-autobiographical, although he will not say exactly who Dori Lawrence really was. He'll only say she was based on a real actress who appeared in four movies (two of them hits) in the 1970s before dropping off Hollywood's radar. I'd love to know who she is if anyone can solve the mystery.

Val Kilmer's part was originally just a cameo, but Anselmo liked Kilmer's performance so much he expanded the part into a great little character study. Tucker and Cook are also excellent, along with Agnes Bruckner, who turned out to be far more impressive that I thought she'd be. Loved the Penny Marshall sighting, too.

You can find "Stateside" (rated R for a little nudity and language) at Hollywood Video. Check it out!

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