"Hoop Dreams" has been something of a blessing and a curse for its director, Steve James. While that 1994 feature, a documentary on amateur basketball, proved that James is a superb filmmaker and storyteller, it also seems to have given him the impression that every story has to be an epic.

In the case of "Hoop Dreams," it was — the film easily held audience attention for nearly three hours. But for his dramatic follow-up, 1997's "Prefontaine," he tried to squeeze too much story into a compact running time.

So, in his latest, the documentary, "Stevie," James has returned to a much longer running time, in an attempt to stretch out a smaller story. Not that this film — a profile of accused child molester Stephen Fielding — is uninteresting. In fact, it's pretty compelling.

However, at nearly 2 1/2 hours, the film is at least 30 minutes too long. And in documentary filmmaking that can feel like an eternity.

Still, it's a subject in which James has more than a passing interest. He served as an Advocate Big Brother to Fielding nearly two decades earlier. "Stevie" finds James looking up his troubled "Little Brother" after more than a dozen years.

When he finally comes face-to-face with Fielding, James discovers that he's still living with his step-grandmother, Verna Hagler. However, he does have a girlfriend, and he seems relatively content. But that all begins to unravel in a hurry.

First, Stevie's long-estranged mother tries to make her presence felt in his life. And when Stevie's accused of sexually molesting an 8-year-old cousin, it becomes evident that he might have to spend the rest of his life in prison.

James' personal struggles, as to whether he should get involved, provides some valuable insight into the process of non-fiction filmmaking. Unfortunately, at times that thread threatens to overwhelm the central storyline.

As for Fielding, he's a surprisingly endearing subject — even when his despicable actions are apparent. With his mullet haircut, thick glasses and overbite, he looks like someone Billy Bob Thornton might play in a movie.

"Stevie" is not rated but would probably receive an R for occasional use of strong sex-related profanity, explicit sexual talk and use of crude sexual slang terms, and some drug content (discussion of marijuana use). Running time: 140 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com