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By Jamie Tipps | September 19, 2008

For all those wondering, the rape scene is not that bad. A shot of a hand, a crying face, and it’s over. Disturbing, yes, but certainly nothing like, say, Jodie Foster in “The Accused.” In fact, other than some Elvis-like swiveling of Dakota Fanning’s hips when she belts out “Hounddog,” there is little physical behavior that warrants the public outcry for a criminal investigation that’s been splashed across the media for the last several days. However, to integrate a rape scene involving a twelve-year-old girl is in questionable taste, but to include it in a terrible movie makes the decision all the more ill conceived.

Raised by a drunken father and strict grandmother, Lewellen (Dakota Fanning) often escapes to the woods to play with her best friend, Buddy. Their childish games and her love of music are the bright spots in an otherwise dreary existence. Small clues hint that Lewellen has been a victim of sexual abuse in the past, and a greater violation is in store for her future. The question is whether or not this will corrupt her spirit.

At least, that’s what I assume the point of the movie is supposed to be. “Hounddog” is such a muddled mess that it’s a wonder that it attracted such high profile talent. The supporting cast, including Robin Wright Penn and David Morse, do well in their respective roles. As unsettling as it is to watch, Fanning delivers the strongest performance as the lead. She is both an innocent and a Lolita, a child and an old soul. If this was enough to carry a movie, it would be worth watching.

But it’s not. While the acting is solid, the story falls apart. The plot meanders, taking bizarre twists and turns. The motif of snakes and their relation to Lewellen is clumsily inserted, as is her means of redemption (the penultimate scene reeks of so much melodrama, it borders on laughable). Overall, director Deborah Kempmeir mistakes ominous and depressing for deep and meaningful, a misfire that undermines the effect it tries to achieve.

If it was a better quality film, the infamous scene might be justified if it served to enhance the whole. In a bad film, however, it just feels exploitative.

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