Movie review of “The Sea of Trees”: Gus Van Sant’s maudlin muddle about two suicidal men stars Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe and Naomi Watts. Rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.

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Northwest movie director Gus Van Sant has created some truly oddball movies: an adaptation of Tom Robbins’ “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” the frightening Columbine-inspired “Elephant,” not to mention a gee-that-took-guts remake of Hitchcock’s “Psycho.’

But nothing prepared us for the maudlin muddle that is his new mystery drama, “The Sea of Trees,” which landed with a thud at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Based on an original screenplay by Chris Sparling, it clumsily combines elements of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “An American in Paris” and even a song from that score, “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise.’’

Movie Review ★½  

‘The Sea of Trees,’ with Matthew McConaughey, Naomi Watts, Ken Watanabe. Directed by Gus Van Sant, from a screenplay by Chris Sparling. 110 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, some disturbing images and brief strong language. Kent Station 14.

The sparring couple at its center are played by Naomi Watts, a fearless actress who seems game for anything, and Matthew McConaughey, who just seems off his game here. His suicidal American professor begins the movie by trying to kill himself near Mount Fuji. He’s quickly joined by a Japanese businessman (an overwrought Ken Watanabe) who also wants to end it all.

No wonder Watts rules the movie. She’s playing the only remotely sympathetic character; the men seem consumed by grief and guilt and platitudes.

Robin Williams and Sean Penn won Oscars for their work with Van Sant, and Nicole Kidman, Matt Damon and Matt Dillon did some of their best work for him. But they were all working from solid scripts. It makes a difference.