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'RUBY' IN THE ROUGH ASHLEY JUDD IS A GEM IN HER FILM DEBUT

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Ashley Judd, the daughter and younger sister (respectively) ofcountry-music stars Naomi and Wynonna Judd, has a face that’s fun towatch precisely because it’s so busy watching everything. There’s ahint of Jodie Foster in her darkly probing stare, her beatific MonaLisa smile, her deep, no-nonsense voice. Yet Judd has aSouthern-fried sensuality all her own. She’s the best reasonto see Victor Nunez’s RUBY IN PARADISE (unrated), a plainspokenindependent feature that’s fresh enough to createa new-style feminist heroine and not quite savvy enough to knowwhat to do with her.Judd’s Ruby Lee Gissing flees the Tennessee backwater in which shewas raised and lands in Panama City, a Florida beach town wheremajestic ocean vistas rub up against tourist attractions of awesometackiness. She gets a job hawking souvenirs in a retail emporium andfalls into relationships with two sexy men: Ricky (Bentley Mitchum),a lady-killer with an irresistible shark grin, and Mike (Todd Field),an acerbic Bohemian who works in a plant nursery and believes in”low-impact living.”For Ruby, true freedom means refusing to define herself by the menshe’s with. Ricky is your basic jerk, but Mike, with his smilingcourtliness, presents a more complex problem. Respectful and loving,he nevertheless uses his sensitivity as a form of control. Juddconveys such a quiet war of emotions-a need for security coupledwith a yearning for identity-that Ruby’s very tentativeness comes toseem a sign of strength, a desire to look beyond the rules laid outfor her. Ultimately, though, it’s the film that’s tentative-and morethan a little plodding. Instead of following through on therelationships, Nunez allows Ruby in Paradise to get bogged down inhis heroine’s economic woes. The film ends up being about whethershe’ll land on her feet, when what we really want to see is whethershe can stand tall. C+

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