A straight college boy gets more than he bargained for when he hits the road with an unstable wild-child.
After winning considerable kudos for her frank and focused working class British dramas (Safe, Priest), Antonia Bird makes a surprisingly shallow choice for her debut American movie. Mad Love is yet another entry in the time-honoured road movie genre, and - for all the English director's obvious talent - feels a little too much like a schedule-filling cash-in.
This time, the road theme is revamped to study an all-American, slightly square college boy, Matt (O'Donnell), who hightails it into the desert with the free-spirited, not to say loopy wild-child Casey (Barrymore) after he springs her from a mental hospital where she's recovering from a recent overdose.
Together they hit the wide open road with the car top down and the radio blaring, but as Casey starts to lose control of her faculties, Matt realises he's bitten off a mite more than he can chew.
Sadly, this is also true of the film, which starts as a banal teen love story and only in the last 15 minutes manages to shift gear into something more interesting. But even then it lacks the conviction to say anything profound, and our heroes succumb to a damp squib of a finale, the film spluttering out of gas well before the end credits.
Performance-wise Barrymore takes all the glory here, turning in a well-observed study of her role which manages to transcend the hamfistedness of the script. But all the touchy-feely sentiment and angst only serves to highlight O'Donnell's lack of range.
There's a half-decent road movie desperate to break free here, but it gets stuck in a mire of fatuous slush.