By Owen Gleiberman
Updated June 14, 1991 at 04:00 AM EDT

The elements in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, an overripe adaptation of Carson McCullers’ 1941 novella include a dilapidated mill town in the Deep South; the mannish, overalls-clad giantess (Vanessa Redgrave) who runs the town; a hyperkinetic hunchbacked dwarf (Cork Hubbert) who helps shake up the local social life; and the backwoods scoundrel (Keith Carradine) who returns from prison years after Redgrave tossed him out on their wedding night. Directing his first film, British theater veteran Simon Callow appears to have been drawn to the material for its psychosexual overtones: He’s crafted a defiantly warped mythopoetic fable in which the forces of feminine nature are systematically destroyed. Redgrave, looking like David Bowie in his Let’s Dance phase, refuses to find remotely human shadings in her steely character (she spends most of her energy trying to rein in her British accent). The Ballad of the Sad Cafe comes off as a series of lunar enigmas — it’s like a Twin Peaks episode in which even the halfway sane characters have left town. Visually, though, Callow shows a flair for the hyperrealistic baroque. If he applied his lurid theatrical sensibility to a story that actually seemed to be unfolding on this planet, he could be a director to watch. C