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AN UNFINISHED LIFE *

CAST: Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez, Morgan Freeman, Josh Lucas, Damian Lewis, Becca Gardner, Camryn Manheim

DIRECTOR: Lasse Hallstrom

SCREENWRITERS: Mark Spragg and Virginia Korus Spragg

Still waiting for Jennifer Lopez to catch fire on screen, to unleash the sizzle and raw emotion lurking beneath the metallic, pseudo-spunky facade? Sorry, but you’ll just have to keep waiting. In “An Unfinished Life,” a sloppy, preposterous soap opera that had been rotting on the Miramax shelf for the past couple of years, J. Lo plays Jean Gilkyson, a single Wyoming mom struggling to survive. But it’s evident that the tight-jeaned, meticulously coiffed, visibly bored diva is merely slumming.

Actually, Jean Gilkyson has more reason to be fearful than bored, since she and Griff, her 11-year-old daughter (Becca Gardner), are in imminent danger of being bludgeoned to death by Jean’s hyper live-in boyfriend (Damian Lewis). So the penniless mother and daughter have little choice but to make their escape and head directly to the meager ranch of Einar Gilkyson, Griff’s grouchy grandpa (Redford).

Einar, as it turns out, can barely tolerate being in the same room with Jean, which is understandable, since she was at the wheel of the car in which his beloved son, Griffin, was killed. Einar’s loyal ranch-hand friend Mitch (Morgan Freeman), however, thinks both Jean and Griff are swell, so Einar reluctantly gives them shelter. And before long, Jean is the best gosh-darn waitress in a nearby town and is also being wooed by the town’s aw-shucks sheriff (Josh Lucas).

Is there a happy ending? Sure. But not before Jean’s loose-cannon ex-lover shows up demanding she return home, and not before a vicious bear that once mauled Mitch comes sniffing around the ranch in hopes of finishing the job. The real questions are, how could Lasse Hallstrom, director of “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” and “The Cider House Rules,” have gotten suckered into this fiasco, and couldn’t Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman have simply rested on their laurels? They look plain silly sitting around and yakking on that dreary ranch, and nearly as bored as J. Lo.