By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated September 23, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

Kim Basinger plays a sad married mom in New Mexico who screws around — until her dreams go up in smoke. Charlize Theron plays a sad single woman in Oregon who smokes and screws around. The two ladies are linked, but to find out how, you must wade through The Burning Plain‘s intentionally disorienting narrative shuffles — the signature storytelling tic of Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (21 Grams, Babel), here making his unsteady directorial debut. The scenery (prettily captured by There Will Be Blood cinematographer Robert Elswit) is littered with heavy symbolism (fire! rain! dead birds!); the performances are merely heavy. (Also available on cable via on demand) D+

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