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SUNSHINE STATE **

CAST: Edie Falco, Angela Bassett, Timothy Hutton, Mary Alice, Jane Alexander, Mary Steenburgen, James McDaniel, Ralph Waite, Tom Wright, Marc Blucas, Bill Cobbs, Miguel Ferrer, Clifton James

DIRECTOR: John Sayles

John Sayles has excelled as actor, writer and director. Is there anything the man cannot do? On the basis of this sprawling, unfocussed socio-comedy about some screwed-up folks in Delrona Beach, Florida who are threatened by rapacious land developers, I'd say he's not much of an editor. Both the jokes and the civics lessons are tired and in desperate need of a trim. There are too many meandering, preciously Southern stories to follow, and matters aren't helped by the fact that two or three of the male characters are played by actors who were probably separated at birth.

Looking very much like no one else, however, is Edie Falco as a frustrated, sexually independent, hangover-prone divorcee who has abandoned her slow-budding showbiz career in order to manage her father's tacky motel. If you doubted that Tony Soprano's long-suffering missus has what it takes to become a star on the big screen, you were wrong. She's fresh, funny, touching, and totally hot. The same would be true of Angela Bassett were she not saddled with the thin, sudsy role of a woman who returns from the North to make peace with her mother (Mary Alice), a proud, conservative black woman who whisked her teen-aged daughter out of town when she became pregnant by a high-school jock.

There are compelling scenes in "Sunshine State"--and that includes all of those in which Falco and Timothy Hutton (on-target as a married man who's visiting town sans wife) fumble, frolic and make romantic fools of themselves. But, in the end, John Sayles' Delrona Beach is a long way from Robert Altman's thickly populated but never over-crowded "Nashville." Next time he heads South, let's hope somebody packs the director a pair of scissors.