By CRAIG YOUNKIN – April 11, 2010
No stranger to quirky performances (most notably “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”), actor Tim Blake Nelson takes his broad sense of humor behind the camera this time, as writer and director, for “Leaves of Grass.” This is a scatter-brained flick (part drug comedy, part violent crime film, part romance, part drama about dealing with family issues, part reflection on the deeper questions of life) that never really finds its center while the comedy is just weirdness for the sake of weirdness.
Edward Norton does double duty playing twins Bill and Brady Kincaid. Bill managed to escape Little Dixie, Oklahoma (and the hillbilly accent) and become a big-time philosophy professor, while Brady stayed and became a marijuana dealer. Brady is a fairly smart guy (he even rigged up his own little weed factory, making his some of the purest out there), but he’s in trouble with a Jewish mobster (Richard Dreyfuss) who wants him to start selling harder drugs. So he tricks Bill into coming back to Little Dixie and uses him in a plan to clean up his mess. Meanwhile, Bill begins smoking weed again, connecting with Brady and his estranged mother (Susan Sarandon), and forming a romance with a cat-fish fishing poet (Keri Russell).
Norton is called on to do very little other than swap accents and facial hair and the characters either come off as jokes (goofy stereotypes of jews and hillbillies are the closest this movie ever gets to comedy) or subdued and one-note. Most get lost in the chaos of plot-lines, which Nelson decides to tidy up with a second half full of bloody violence, which feels very out of place.