Indie hell keeps getting redefined. Writer-director Tod Williams' The Adventures of Sebastian Cole incorporates all the quirky, derivative elements of modern-day, oh-so-sensitive B-movies, with nary a breath of fresh air to justify its determined whimsy. Seventeen-year-old misfit Sebastian (Adrian Grenier) has major issues to deal with in his young life: His stepfather Hank (Clark Gregg) has decided to become a woman; his sister (Aleksa Palladino) flees to California with her boyfriend; his mother (Margaret Colin) is a drunk who tries to drag him off to her native England; his biological father (John Shea) is an egomaniacal prig with a new trophy wife. Sebastian goes to live with Hank, who has become 'Henrietta,' and rails against high-school and small-town life in upstate New York. His ambition? He wants to become a Hemingway-ish writer, while flunking out of school and getting into a series of mostly clueless exploits.

The film suffers from a fatal flaw: You just don't care about Sebastian's torturous coming of age. Grenier, with an annoying lock of white hair, like Susan Sontag's (or is it Pepe LePew?), has an androgynous handsomeness reminiscent of the young Michael Sarrazin, but not much else. His Sebastian is merely the kind of self-involved, slacking adolescent that is every boomer parent's worst nightmare. His none-too-original 'adventures' have absolutely no organic substance to them. To the accompaniment of driving, 'youthful' rock music, he bikes furiously through the halls of his school (until someone helpfully tosses a bucket of suds on the floor). He saves a young prostitute from a fate that, here, seems infinitely preferable to death. He largely mistreats a girl hapless enough to fall for his narcissistic butt. Mostly, he just ungratefully gives Hank a hard time until finally realizing that this strangely macho pre-op ain't so bad after all. Hank then cooperatively dies in time to provide a poignant ending and one more chance for Sebastian to act out.

Gregg is pretty unappetizing whether in or out of drag (bad wigs are the downfall of both his personas), besides being the most unconvincing 'woman' imaginable. His Henrietta is at once bizarrely butch and creepily bathetic. Palladino and Colin are wasted in their ill-conceived roles, although Shea is smugly well-cast. The photography strains for rustic lyricism and fails mightily. Williams has portentously set this in the '80s, to supposedly capture a changing zeitgeist; the use of pop tunes of that already overworked era might be more to the point.

--David Noh