It's no Pretty Woman, but there's always a bit of suspended disbelief necessary when Hollywood makes a film about a well-meaning man trying to rescue a prostitute who is down on her luck or just trying to pay her bills. In the case of Welcome to the Rileys, great work by James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), Melissa Leo (Treme) and Kristen Stewart (Twilight) make it solidly entertaining. And director Jake Scott does a great job of setting most of the the film in New Orleans without making the city into a character or distraction. There's only one roving second-line marching through a brief scene, and the only bad accent is the Midwestern twang Gandolfini occasionally overplays.
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Doug Riley (Gandolfini) and wife Lois (Leo) have slipped into a lifeless marriage in suburban Indianapolis after the death of their teenage daughter. Doug travels to New Orleans on a business trip, and in his boredom and loneliness finds himself in a strip club — and kudos to Scott for having him pass by Bourbon Street addresses for the grittier Iberville clubs, where he meets underage stripper Mallory (Stewart).
Her life and outlook are sufficiently rough and crass to give the film a dark edge in dialogue and tension. Doug's attempts to reach out to her hit a decent balance of improbability and originality, given how heavy-handed the story is about him seeing her as a surrogate daughter. But he throws enough money her way to make her trust of a weird middle-aged man (who's apparently not trying to have sex with her) at the very least a good business arrangement. It's all a strange and sweet moment discovered by two people struggling at particular points in their lives, until Lois reminds Doug he has a family and issues to deal with closer to home.
Gandolfini is excellent as the resolute but not outwardly emotional Doug. Stewart again finds herself surrounded by blood-sucking suitors, and she handles the foul-mouthed and reckless Mallory well. Leo is again compelling as a mystified wife trying to recover a husband sold on a soul-saving mission in New Orleans. — Will Coviello