If you're thinking of taking a provocative look at simmering racial tensions in the Noo Joisey suburbs, based on a novel by Clockers author Richard Price with Samuel L Jackson in the lead, chances are Spike Lee or John Singleton would be near the top of your directorial wishlist. Even if they weren't available, however, you'd tick off a few other candidates before hiring the guy who made Christmas With The Kranks and America's Sweethearts.
When you're Joe Roth, though, head of Revolution Studios and all-round Hollywood powerbroker, you can pretty much do what you like. Which explains why he's at the helm of this ponderous mix of cop thriller and social-issue melodrama, all hanging on a mystery you can probably figure out just by reading the synopsis. But we can't lay Freedomland's troubles solely at Roth's door. Indeed, if there's a culprit here it's Price himself, who has singularly failed to condense his 1998 doorstopper into a workable and coherent screenplay.
Part of the problem is the needless accumulation of unhelpful, cluttering detail. Take Jackson's world-weary detective, who during the course of the story is revealed to be a) religious, b) asthmatic and c) the father of an incarcerated criminal. What relevance does any of this have to the plot? About as little as the tragic past of Edie Falco's missing-child ace, called in to decide whether Moore is telling porkies. We're even given a potted history of Freedomland itself, a long-shut funny farm whose grounds conceal a dark secret.
Throw in a welter of interminable monologues, some trademark shouting from Mr Jackson ("Kiss my ass, brother-fucker!") and a histrionic performance from Moore (it makes her Magnolia raging look positively restrained), and the result is a clunky yawner not even a riot can energise. "Twenty-two years on the job makes it hard to have faith in humanity," Sam sighs at one point. Two hours of this has the same effect.
More talking book than motion picture, Freedomland's isolated sparks of drama and pathos fizzle out in an ocean of mediocrity.