Tim Orr, Sony Pictures Classics
Sigourney Weaver as Sandy and Emile Hirsch as Tim give strong performances in "Imaginary Heroes."

In 1997, Sigourney Weaver gave an Academy Award-caliber performance as an unorthodox suburban mother in "The Ice Storm," a sullen, often aloof drama about a dysfunctional family facing a tragedy.

Nearly a decade later she again gives an award-worthy performance, this time playing an orthodox suburban mother in "Imaginary Heroes," a sullen, often aloof drama about a dysfunctional family facing a tragedy.

But the movies, and the roles, aren't really that similar.

"Imaginary Heroes" centers on the Travis family. The oldest son, Matt (Kip Pardue), recently committed suicide, due to the pressures of athletic competition. Because of that, his father and coach, Ben (Jeff Daniels), has sunk into an alcohol-fueled depression.

Matt's mother, Sandy (Weaver), and younger brother, Tim (Emile Hirsch), aren't doing much better. She's begun smoking pot again, while Tim has begun experimenting with other "recreational" drugs, as well as with his sexuality.

And, as you might expect, their silences eventually end and lead to the exposure of some long-held family secrets.

As you might notice from that summary, "Imaginary Heroes" has a lot in common with Robert Redford's Oscar-winning 1980 drama "Ordinary People," beyond a similar-sounding title.

This isn't the kind of feature filmmaking debut you'd expect from Dan Harris, one of two screenwriters credited for the superhero sequel "X2." His direction here is competent enough, but the film goes off the rails with its oppressively dark mood and soap opera plot contrivances, along with a clunky voice-over narration by Hirsch.

Still, the cast nearly salvages the picture. Weaver brings depth to her somewhat superficial character, and Hirsch only gets better with each movie.

On the supporting side, Daniels' performance begs for more screen time. The same goes for Michelle Williams, who is wasted in a go-nowhere role as another of the Travis family offspring. Despite some solid acting, though, the film ultimately doesn't have nearly the lingering emotional power of either "Ordinary People" or "The Ice Storm."

"Imaginary Heroes" is rated R for occasional use of strong sexual profanity, drug content (marijuana and ecstasy use), some sexual talk and use of crude slang terms, a brief sex scene and some brief violence (an auto accident and a scuffle). Running time: 111 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com