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Have the Farrelly brothers gone soft?

Moviegoers will probably ask themselves this question as they watch "Outside Providence."

After all, Miramax's marketing department has labeled this film an "outrageous new comedy." The company wants audiences to flock to theaters expecting another "Dumb and Dumber" or "There's Something About Mary." These ads are intentionally misleading, however. There is nothing outrageous or even purely comedic about this picture. The fact is that the Farrelly brothers have gone soft, at least for this movie. Instead of a gross-out comedy, they've actually made quite a touching film.

"Outside Providence" begins as a nostalgia picture, introducing us to four teen-agers bored out of their minds in 1974. Nothing interesting ever happens in Pawtucket, R.I., and Timothy Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy) wants to get out. His chance soon comes, but not in the manner he had planned. After Tim rams his smoke-filled car into a parked police cruiser, his father (Alec Baldwin) sends him to Cornwall Academy, a prep school that's heavy on discipline. The film really hits its pace here, as it transforms from a nostalgia piece into a fish-out-of-water story.

While Tim is at Cornwall, it becomes clear that this is not a typical movie from the Farrelly brothers. There are a few scenes (and nicknames) thrown in simply for their minor shock value, but the pure sickness is definitely toned down. Instead of always going for the easy laugh, co-writer/director Michael Corrente works to evoke some genuine, heartfelt responses from the audience.

And as the film progresses, we see Tim develop further as a human being. It's refreshing to see that co-writers Peter and Bobby Farrelly are capable of entertaining at this level as well.

"Outside Providence" contains talented performances from new actors as well as veterans. Young Hatosy ("The Faculty") does a fine job as Tim, easily making the emotional transitions from bored to fearful to ambitious. Amy Smart is warm and loving as Jane Weston, Tim's intelligent new girlfriend. George Wendt ("Cheers") is talented, though underused, in a short subplot that develops the theme of tolerating others. Perhaps the best performance of all comes from Alec Baldwin, who plays Tim's seemingly dimwitted father. In addition to mastering a New England accent, Baldwin is utterly moving during the sentimental scenes in this film. In fact, he may even get a supporting actor Oscar nomination if the highbrow Academy has the sense to look past the Farrelly name.

If you're looking for another "There's Something About Mary" you will be disappointed by "Outside Providence." The movie is warm-hearted and timeless despite being set in 1974.

In fact, the time frame is relevant only to the great soundtrack, which includes Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steppenwolf and the Who. I was very glad to see work like this from the Farrelly brothers. Their other movies have been downright hilarious; "Outside Providence" tells a downright great story.

Tom Grabon is a senior at East Aurora High School.

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