“Country Strong” sure does have all the material needed for a great country song.

A great movie? Well, that’s another story.

Somewhere deep inside this Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle there is a quality movie with some challenging subject matter. But that promise was glossed over by a film that tries too hard to be nice and not offend its target audience.

It’s a country version of the Bette Midler picture “The Rose,” with the petals slightly wilted.

Paltrow plays Kelly Canter, a country music superstar who is fresh out of rehab and trying to restart her sagging career.

Forced to get back out on the road by her manager/husband James (Tim McGraw), Canter is joined on her comeback tour by a pair of up-and-coming singers. Beau (Garrett Hedlund) is a musician/songwriter who has taken up a relationship with Canter while she was in rehab. Chiles (Leighton Meester) is a beauty queen turned singer whom James seems to be grooming as the next country superstar.

Writer/director Shana Feste riddles “Country Strong” with heaping piles of melodrama, creating a predictable and rather tame drama.

All four leads try their best, but they can’t shape a pedestrian script that spends more time with the film’s love square than it does exploring why Canter has fallen so hard (there are even several references to the incident that sent Canter into rehab, a drunken stage mishap while pregnant, which is never really dealt with other than a passing mention here or there).

Paltrow is actually more believable on stage than off, with her best moments coming during an awkward first performance after rehab and a visit to a Make-A-Wish child. Hedlund, the star of “Tron: Legacy,” shows nice range and looks really comfortable behind the mic, while McGraw is saddled with a clich/-ridden blowhard who never really is allowed to do anything but scowl and act gruff.

If Feste the writer would have stayed true to her story and allowed the film to explore some darker areas that the film seems to suggest, I think “Country Strong” might have worked. Instead, it’s just another middle-of-the-road melodrama that won’t even be remembered come last call.

Also in theatres

One of 2010’s best films, “The King’s Speech” (A), arrives in Bowling Green this weekend, giving moviegoers a chance to see another Oscar-worthy performance from Colin Firth.

He plays King George VI, the reluctant British leader who rises to power right before World War II after his brother (Guy Pearce) abdicates the throne.

George’s reluctance stems from a lifelong stammer that has caused him to lose confidence in his ability to lead a nation. George’s wife (Helena Bonham Carter) finds an unorthodox speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to help her husband, and the duo strike up an unlikely friendship that helps George find his voice and lead the nation.

Director Tom Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler have crafted an entertaining and inspirational film that is filled with humor and strong work from the entire cast.

Carter’s performance could easily be dismissed, but there is a strong quietness to her character that she really captures - adding heart and soul to the film.

This may be Rush’s best work since he won the Academy Award for “Shine.” The film’s strength lies in the relationship between George and Lionel, and Rush matches Firth in every scene.

But it is Firth who makes “The King’s Speech” exceptional. His performance is more than just a person with a stammer or tic. There is a silent pain in his eyes and his struggles reminded me a lot of his performance in 2009’s “A Single Man.” I thought Firth deserved the Oscar for that performance, but he is just as good here. This is his Oscar to lose and I can’t think of a more deserving actor.

Firth’s performance in this great film cements his status as one of the best actors working today.

“The King’s Speech” is rated R for some language (although this film easily could have been PG-13, and really should have been) and opens Friday at the Greenwood Mall 10.

— To get sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton’s up-to-the minute thoughts on all things movies, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. You can also e-mail him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com.


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