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MOVIE REVIEW

Big names but little to like in 'Georgia Rule'

Lindsay Lohan plays an off-the-rails teenagers and Jane Fonda her strict grandmother. (Ron Batzdorff/Universal Pictures via ap)

Is it possible to revoke a comeback? "Monster-in-Law " (2005 ) was a surprisingly retrograde farce for Jane Fonda to choose as her first film in 15 years, but at least it was professional and reasonably inoffensive. Oh, that the same could be said for "Georgia Rule ," the intergenerational-bonding chick flick that's the next item on Fonda's docket and a pox on her filmography.

Come to think of it, is it possible to revoke an entire adolescence? Lindsay Lohan had her share of tabloid bad-girl headlines during the filming of "Georgia," to the point where she was publicly spanked in a letter from the head of the film's production company. In retrospect, it's conceivable she was researching her role as Rachel , the big-city teenage car wreck stuck in an Idaho town. It's just as likely she got a look at the script and threw a diva fit.

For "Georgia Rule" is a bad idea dreadfully executed -- "On Golden Pond " with fellatio jokes and whimsical incest melodrama and Fonda playing her dad (who, more and more, she eerily resembles). For her and for Felicity Huffman , cast as the third side of the film's tortured grandmother/daughter/granddaughter triangle, the movie's merely a humiliation. For Lohan, it's something worse: hard evidence she can't act.

Well, of course she can act: Look at "Mean Girls " or, better, Robert Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion ," in which she was unexpectedly touching. As the hellacious brat of "Georgia Rule," though, Lohan's line readings are alternately flat and flip, and she slumps through the movie as though the party were elsewhere and she was stuck picking up her room. It's a performance of no thought or depth, as unfixed as the bizarre spray-on tan that seems to mutate from scene to scene.

Rachel is a 17-year-old wildcat who needs taming, so her harried mother, Lilly , ships her to the small town of Hull, Idaho , to live with her grand mother, the iron-willed Georgia. Georgia likes to set rules (thus the title) and she also washes your mouth out with soap if you take the Lord's name in vain. She's not above dropping the F-bomb, though, since the movie's keen to pander to both youth audiences and the family values crowd.

We've seen similar plotlines in "In Her Shoes " and other movies -- except here Rachel tosses her panties at every man in town (including the designated hot/sensitive veterinarian widower, played by Dermot Mulroney ), gives a local Mormon hunk (Garrett Hedlund ) oral sex in a dinghy, and reveals -- ta da! -- that she was sexually abused by her stepfather (Cary Elwes , looking appropriately mortified). Or maybe she's making that last part up.

By the way, if you were thinking about taking the kids? Don't.

Another young actress might have been able to hit the right notes of confusion and pain, of angry hormones cutting loose in every direction. Evan Rachel Wood , maybe. Heck, Mandy Moore . Lohan's performance, by contrast, is so superficial that you hate Rachel more at the end of the movie than you did at the start, and that can't be right.

For proof that some actresses can take on a misconceived role and get out alive, there's Huffman as Lilly, a booze-guzzling basket case who spends the last half of "Georgia Rule" in full-on nervous breakdown, judged and found wanting by both her mother and her daughter. The part's less believable than the transsexual she played in "Transamerica ," but Huffman works hard to impart a similar humanity, even after the movie grinds her into the dirt.

She's defeated at every turn by Mark Andrus's overloaded screenplay -- heavy on the self-help chatter -- and the surprisingly shoddy direction of Garry Marshall . Why hire Marshall for such tricky material? Because when you think of realistic portrayals of young women coping with men's sexual demands, you think of the guy who gave us "Pretty Woman "?

Fonda? She's acting in a different movie, and for her sake I hope it's a better one. (Actually, she's doing late-era salty-spinster Katharine Hepburn , with a similar taste in scripts.) Georgia is offscreen for large amounts of time while Lilly and Rachel hash things out in one cringe-inducing scene after another; the issue of whether the daughter was in fact abused or not goes back and forth so many times that you finally cry uncle and stop caring.

In a weird way, that's impressive. It takes real time and effort to trivialize incest. "Georgia Rule" does it in just 113 minutes.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/ movies/blog.

'Related'

Georgia Rule

Directed by: Garry Marshall

Written by: Mark Andrus

Starring: Jane Fonda , Lindsay Lohan , Felicity Huffman , Dermot Mulroney , Garrett Hedlund , Cary Elwes

At: Boston Common, Fenway, Harvard Square, suburbs

Running time: 113 minutes

Rated: R (sexual content, language, Lindsay Lohan unleashed)

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