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MOVIE REVIEW

Incest story is both indecent and inferior

``The Quiet" is in such bad taste that it's a shame the thriller doesn't make a better bad movie.

Rarely does Jamie Babbit's film rise to the talents of its cast (OK, just the talents of Edie Falco , but still), or stoop to the level of the trashy secrets on display. Any plot featuring a father who can't stay out of his cheerleader daughter's bed deserves to be done with utter seriousness -- or the absolute lack of it. ``The Quiet" has a devil of a time determining which extreme it prefers.

It's too busy being ponderous to do much winking. But it isn't the incest story that weighs the movie down. It's Dot (Camilla Belle ), the deaf-mute who has recently moved into the Deers' Connecticut household after the death of her father. Mrs. Deer (Falco ) is a drugged- up depressive. Mr. Deer ( Martin Donovan ) is an ineffectual creep. And obnoxious Nina (lad-mag mainstay Elisha Cuthbert) is the family's bad girl. But as Dot discovers one night, Nina is saving herself for one man, and he's married to her mom.

Nina is a seductress, even if she's only teasing. Rarely glimpsed in an outfit other than her cheerleading uniform, she frequently leans into Dot's face, as though she'd enjoy giving her more than whispered insults, pharmaceutical drugs, and makeover advice. (It's that kind of movie.)

At school, Nina harasses Dot some more, and jockeys, along with her lascivious buddy Michelle (Katy Mixon ), for the attention of the varsity basketball stud (Shawn Ashmore , Iceman from ``X-Men"). But naturally he prefers Dot, silence being a great big turn-on.

But Dot can speak -- or at least narrate. Half of ``The Quiet" consists of her random thoughts. Twice she compares herself to Beethoven, and, once, she tries her hand at philosophical disgust: ``One day we wake up and realize the world sucks , and we suck for being in it."

Belle, with her dark, boyishly cut hair, is certainly a beauty -- and an androgynous one at that. But on screen she's hollow. The film is already visually dead, and it dies a little more whenever she's alone in a scene, which is often.

``The Quiet" is actually a mess of tones. The incest business goes from cheeky and kinky to rote Lifetime payback stuff; nice try attempting to make Nina sympathetically vengeful and psychologically interesting at the last minute. Part of the problem might have something to do with Babbit's confusion about how to treat the soft-core fantasies lurking in Abdi Nazemian and Micah Schraft's script. Rather than throw it into the fireplace, she dares to make a half-earnest movie.

Babbit's last film was 1999's mostly funny gay de programming comedy ``But I'm a Cheerleader." It was a promising debut. Since then, she's put in a lot of television time: a ``Gilmore Girls" here, a ``Nip/Tuck" there. Those are two radically different shows that look at women in different ways. One show likes women, the other does not (although to the credit of ``Nip/Tuck," that show doesn't appear to like anyone).

``The Quiet" lands somewhere in between. It's too confused to provide any thrills, even indecent ones.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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