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Tedious suburban misery

LEONARDO DiCaprio and Kate Winslet tear each other apart more thoroughly than an iceberg ever could in "Revolutionary Road," a brutal - and brutally tedious - depiction of marital malaise.

Director Sam Mendes covered this territory before with more verve and imagination in his 1999 debut "American Beauty." And similar to that film, "Revolutionary Road" carries with it the unmistakable, unwarranted aura of importance, of having something to say about the way we live. If only we understood DiCaprio (below right) and Winslet's (left) characters, Frank and April Wheeler, and felt they were fleshed out as complex human beings, we might have felt the intended emotional impact of their lies and cruelties.

DiCaprio and Winslet (Mendes' real-life wife) are longtime off-screen friends reunited for the first time since the 1997 uber-blockbuster "Titanic." They give it their all with energetic, powerful performances.

Nevertheless, Frank and April come off as cogs in service of facile platitudes about the "hopeless emptiness" of a supposedly idyllic suburban existence, their bitter arguments playing like a screechy rip-off of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

The source material for "Revolutionary Road" is the novel of the same name about a young couple moving to genteel Connecticut with their two kids in the mid-1950s. Frank takes the train each day to Manhattan, then sits in his cubicle doing a routine job at the same company where his father worked. Drinks with the fellas after work eventually give way to boozy trysts with an adoring secretary (Zoe Kazan).

To reference yet another cultural touchstone, which is inevitable, TV's "Mad Men" examines this endless cycle of ambitions and deceptions, cigarettes and martinis, more searingly each week than "Revolutionary Road" does in its jam-packed two hours. But the production values here are impeccable, with the always-great Roger Deakins providing the creamy cinematography.

April, meanwhile, has long since discarded her dreams of becoming an actress in favor of folding laundry and making small talk with nosy neighbors.

But Frank and April had always lived under the delusion that they were extraordinary, and when April hatches a wild plan for the whole family to pick up and move to Paris, she provides both the spark the marriage (and the movie) needed as well as the catalyst to its unraveling. She figures she can support them all by working as a secretary at a US embassy, for example, giving Frank the time he needs to figure out what he wants to do with his life.

Naturally everyone thinks this is a ridiculous plan, not just for its impetuousness but because it undermines traditional gender roles by emasculating Frank.

After a while, Frank and April have made themselves - and each other - so miserable, it's as if there's nothing left to salvage. And since Mendes keeps us at arm's length with this hermetically sealed production, it's hard to care whether they'll ever find that elusive something.


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