By Merle Bertrand | October 18, 1999

Damn it, damn it, damn it! As this year’s festival has featured one film with a perfect ending, (David Lynch’s “The Straight Story”), it only makes sense then that it should also feature a film with the most needlessly screwed up ending I’ve seen in a long time. Well, at least since the last shot of “Pleasantville.” A brooding and mysterious Sam Polivino (Ryan Alosio) calls young and impressionable Vera Johnson (Rachæl Leigh Cook) and sets up an appointment for a job interview the next day. Apparently the hopeful young woman, desperate for any meal ticket out of Montana, never stops to question why someone from Chicago would track her down in the middle of that vast state for a retail job interview. But Sam, as Vera is the last to figure out, isn’t really there to hire her. The job interview is merely a front. He’s really there to deliver news which blindsides the young woman and strikes at the very core of who she is. It also launches Vera and Sam on a road trip to further explore Vera’s suddenly murky past; a road trip which will bind the two of them together forever. Maybe. Damn those last two shots! This is a solid, well-crafted film that’s obviously designed to tug at the heart strings and usually succeeds. The first thirty minutes or so are especially intriguing as we’re trying to figure out just what, exactly, Sam is up to. Though the film bogs down somewhat during the road trip portion, Alosio and Cook both do a fine job of struggling – and failing – to repress the growing feelings they develop for one another throughout the course of their journey. I just wish writer/director Ronald Judkins had known when to quit. Sometimes, as a good friend of mine once so astutely observed, ya just want a Twinkie. At the end of his engaging set-up and the ensuing emotional roller coaster ride he gives Vera, Judkins has all the pieces in place for what would have been a satisfying, if admittedly conventional ending. Instead, he appears to give us the Twinkie we’re slavering for, only to snatch it away with those last two ill-advised shots. “The Hi-Line” ends with a low blow and as a result, we leave the theater unsatisfied

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