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The much buzzed about Sundance film, fails to live up to the hype.

Hounddog ain't no friend of mine. Steeped in controversy, Elvis music, and cornpone Southern gothic, this Dakota Fanning drama prompted hisses after its first press screening at Sundance - a fitting reception, I think, given all the snakes we see writhing in the film.

It's the 1960s, and little Lewellen (Fanning) is obsessed with Elvis Presley. There's not much else to do in her backwoods Southern swamp, so, coaxed on by her creepy Daddy (David Morse), she croons The King's songs and practices his dance moves. Her finesse at hip-shaking mimicry soon draws the unsavory attention of an acne-covered milkman and, in a scene that has already brought the film notoriety, he manipulates Lewellen into giving him a private dance that turns quickly into rape.

Whether or not you feel Fanning was exploited in the making of Hounddog, the fact remains that this isn't a very good movie, and certainly not one smart enough to tackle a thorny topic like child sexuality. Director Deborah Kampmeier tilts the proceedings into absurdity far too often, and if it weren't for the uncomfortable nature of its themes, Hounddog would become an instant camp classic. Just try to resist laughing when Lewellen's Daddy is abruptly struck by lightning and bounced fifty feet in the air, or when the over-the-top Piper Laurie (in what must by now be twenty histrionic performances too many) appears as Lewellen's grandmother. By the time Morse gives himself a Three Stooges haircut and starts wandering naked through his scenes, you'll have given up entirely.

Fanning is a technically skilled actress (when she faces off against Robin Wright Penn and starts mocking her voice, she does her better than Penn does herself) but she's done no favors by this screenplay, which has her character lurching into some very improbable choices. The result is some impressive acting in isolated scenes that don't add up to a sense of the character as a whole. Even after the rape, when Lewellen finally sings "Hound Dog" again in an entirely different way, it's as though Fanning has just practiced a key change rather than given us a real feel of who Lewellen has become. Hounddog can be commended for trying, but in the end, it ain't nothin' but a dog.

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Kyle Buchanan