Delilah Ashford Potts (Kate Capshaw) owns a medium-sized ranch on the remote Kansas plains. The time is the early 1960s, when it is downright impossible not to find a cowboy or cowgirl without a cigarette dangling from their lips. Boss Delilah herself likes to smoke, and drink bourbon, and occasionally sleep with one of the men who work for her. She is a voluptuous widow. Her husband, it seems, committed suicide eight years earlier, and her weird son Flyboy (Jeremy Davies) was committed to a mental institution soon after dad was found hanging from a tree in the front yard. The coincidence makes us ponder just how neurotic these characters really are. Flyboy, for instance, speaks to no one, wears an apron, and waits on his mother who sits at the head of a dining room table the size of a swimming pool.

Into this smoldering cauldron of sins and secrets comes drifter Clay Hewitt (Vince Vaughn), looking like a cross between James Dean and Richard Beymer. With a pack of Marlboros permanently rolled up in the sleeve of his white t-shirt, Clay is a hunk who obviously conceals dark secrets in his violent past.

Time in The Locusts is measured by the number of calves who have been castrated-and not too many have lost their testicles before Delilah tries to seduce Clay, and Clay has begun his campaign to get Flyboy to assert himself. The clash between Delilah and Clay is at the core of the film, with a romantic subplot involving local girl Kitty (Ashley Judd), who places her truck, her body and her bank account at Clay's disposal. Her lust, it appears, is ignited in the opening sequence when she watches him knock down mean-spirited Joel (Daniel Meyer) with a single punch to the stomach that only reinforces the sneer frozen on Joel's face.

John Patrick Kelley, both the author and director of The Locusts, indulges himself constantly. No one, it appears, seems to have had the authority to cut or even curtail scenes that last many puffs after they have made their point. And, in addition to the snail-like pacing, Kelley cannot resist a hackneyed instance of pathetic fallacy-i.e., a noisy thunderstorm to accompany the climactic moment when Delilah and Joel castrate Flyboy's pet bull. As for dialogue, Kelley shows himself to be an enthusiastic graduate of the College of Troy Donahue, and has gratefully included a reference to his alma mater in a passing remark.

Some performances survive the script's Sturm und Drang, others are not so fortunate. Capshaw, as the domineering Delilah (does the name remind you of an Old Testament woman?), comes across as a distant seductress even while pushing down her decolletage or pulling up her skirt. At no point does she lose her dignity despite all the erotic overtones-neither, on the other hand, does she seem to be feeling much. Davies gives a strong performance as her mentally troubled child, but, alas, he has the magnetism of a telephone directory. Vaughan is honest and sincere as Clay, and about as deep as a water trough. Paul Rudd as the good-natured Earl, who shows Clay the ropes, is right on target. Ashley Judd, though, is terribly miscast. She is far too bright and healthy to play a local yokel whose unquenchable masochism grows with every insult.

--Bruce Feld