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By Merle Bertrand | October 18, 1999

Someone once told me that the first thing you should do when you’re trying to get out of a hole is stop digging. That’s advice the four young protagonists in James Rowe’s gripping “Blue Ridge Fall” should have taken to heart. Instead, when Aaron, a mentally-challenged high school student, deals with his abusive, alcoholic, fire and brimstone spewing father the only way he knows how, his three friends go to criminal lengths to try to protect their troubled friend. Every move they make, however, only makes things worse not only for themselves but for other innocents around them. Soon, the well-intentioned young men find themselves holed up in a cabin on the wrong end of a very real and potentially lethal stand-off with the law. Talk about reinforcing the old notion that two wrongs don’t make a right. With a fine cast of young actors supported by an exceptional Tom Arnold and Amy Irving as Aaron’s troubled parents, “Blue Ridge Falls” is a solid, intensely dramatic companion to such lighter-hearted high school buddy movies as “Dazed and Confused” and its especially close cousin “Dancer, TX.” That’s not to say that it’s quite at the level of those films, however. Rowe’s script takes a little too long to complete the set-up and briefly loses its way in the middle with the guys’ aborted attempt to cover their tracks in such a way so as to get everyone off the hook. Also, although the ending itself was a fairly unpredictable, nicely balanced bittersweet mix, I never bought the weakly explained rationalization for the law’s heavy-handed tactics. The film takes place in the kind of small town, after all, where the sheriff’s (Chris Issak) kid sister is dating the ringleader of Aaron’s protective posse. Still, “Blue Ridge Fall” hits the mark most of the time. With the caveat that I never saw festival winner “Wednesday’s Child” due to technical problems with the print, this taut drama extolling the bonds of friendship as well as the fragility and vulnerability of futures we wrongly assume are set in stone, stood out above the rest.

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