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MEAN DREAMS: 3 STARS. “Echoes of ‘Badlands’ hang heavy over this film.”

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-2-22-30-pmThe word hardscrabble comes to mind while watching “Mean Dreams,” a new thriller from director Nathan Morlando. The two lead characters, star-crossed teenagers Casey (Sophie Nelisse) and Jonas (Josh Wiggins), don’t have any easy go of it. Her father Wayne (Bill Paxton) is a physically abusive drunk, while Jonas’s dad treats the fifteen-year-old like an adult. It’s a hard knock life, one that forces the two to mature quickly and make grown-up decisions.

Casey and Wayne are new to town. Wayne divides his time between drinking and looking for ways out of their new podunk town. He’s a lawman with little respect for the law, anything or anyone, including his daughter. When Wayne almost kills Jonas, Casey’s new neighbour and love interest, and local law enforcement (Colm Feore) doesn’t seem interested in helping, the young man takes it on himself to put some space between his new girlfriend and her abusive father. Their new life begins with the theft of $1 million in drug money, an action that brings serious consequences.

Echoes of “Badlands,” Terrence Malick’s tale of young love on the run, hang heavy over “Mean Dreams.“ Casey and Jonas are more innocent than Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) and Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen) but their journey into antisocial behaviour rings a bell. Director Morlando may not be treading new ground here, but emotionally he veers off the beaten track, adding elements of innocence among the wolves that lends the story a welcome human aspect and motivation for their actions.

The villains—Paxton and Feore (SPOILER ALERT) are suitably villainous, amoral and sleazy excuses for human beings, but it’s too bad they feel like they just stepped out of Central Casting. Paxton is undeniably entertaining as the ruthless and vicious father figure, but he’s a mish-mash of every redneck creep we’ve seen before. Feore is given even less dimension, but is an imposing figure nonetheless.

The real heart and soul of “Mean Dreams” lies with Nelisse and Wiggins. If we don’t care about them, we don’t care about the movie and the two young leads are appealing even when they are pushed to extremes.

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