Eighteen-year-old John Talia, Jr.,(Trevor Morgan)is an aspiring artist who is mostly misunderstood by his blue-collar father (Ray Liotta). John, Sr. thinks his son must be a homosexual because he enjoys drawing male nudes. After all, this is 1974, during decidedly less-enlightened times, especially in upstate New York.
Frustrated Junior decides to travel to Pennsylvania to ask his idol, aging master, Nicoli Seroff (Armin Mueller-Stahl), to take him on as an apprentice. But John has no idea that what he'll find is an embittered old alcoholic who has lost not only his enthusiasm for painting but for living.
It seems that the cranky codger is still grieving the death of his wife even though she passed away ages ago in Stalinist Russia during the purge. He somehow remains sour in spite of the presence of a ready replacement ostensibly waiting in the wings in the person of his pretty neighbor, Carla (Samantha Mathis).
The plot thickens when the cantankerous coot grudgingly agrees to mentor John for the summer on the condition he follows an unorthodox training regimen without question. Next, however, Nicoli has his protégé painting his house instead of any canvases. Soon, John starts to wonder how the heck this will lead to his learning to paint beautiful landscapes.
Not to worry. If you're familiar with the storyline of "The Karate Kid," then you undoubtedly remember that the mentoring-style of sensei Mr. Miyagi (who was also mourning the loss of his wife) had more to do with housework than with the martial arts. Therefore, expect to see shades of that screen classic's arc in "Local Color," an autobiographical coming-of-age bio-pic written and directed by George Gallo.
Fortunately, this variation on the "ostracized teen trying to make it in a new town" theme does have a unique twist, an awkward love triangle. You see, the blonde John gets to go gaga over isn't a girl his own age, but none other than Nicoli's Carla, a cougar prepared to pounce, provided her young prey doesn't turn out to be gay.
Simultaneously serving as a muse and as a sympathetic shoulder to lean on, the seductive single-mom inspires her blossoming boy-toy with simplistic, fortune cookie philosophizing such as: "Follow your heart!" and "Don't let anyone talk you out of what you want to be." Hey, don't laugh. Corny lines like that can sound like pearls of wisdom to the testosterone-blinded mind of a virgin with raging hormones, especially when coming from a woman he secretly desires.
Forget The Karate Kid, make room for The Painting Protégé!
Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: Monterey Media
To see a trailer for Local Color, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aD5-Xph5b2w