DOWN IN THE VALLEY — ** — Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood, David Morse; rated R (violence, profanity, sex, vulgarity, brief drugs, brief gore).

Edward Norton has already cemented his reputation as one of the best, most reliable actors currently working in film today. With a few exceptions, his performances have been stellar even when the films haven't been nearly as good.

But Norton has to take at least some of the blame for "Down in the Valley," a ludicrous, would-be Western hybrid, since he helped produce the film.

Norton stars as Harlan, a young cowboy from South Dakota who now finds himself in the San Fernando Valley, where he meets Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood), a precocious and somewhat insolent teen. The two go to the beach and begin spending more and more time together, an unlikely relationship that appears to be getting more serious as it goes along. But there's a dramatic age difference between the two, which doesn't exactly thrill Tobe's law enforcement-officer father (David Morse), who's suspicious of Harlan's motives.

Screenwriter/director David Jacobson (2002's "Dahmer") keeps playing up the whole is-or-isn't-Harlan-crazy angle, which culminates with a truly ridiculous, laughable final 15-minute sequence.

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And Norton is all wrong for main role. Harlan is apparently supposed to be in his late 20s, and the thirtysomething Norton acts — and looks — much older.

It doesn't help that Wood ("The Upside of Anger") looks so much younger than her age. Though she's 18, she still appears to be in her early teens. So seeing these two together is creepy and distasteful.

As usual, Morse is solid in support, trying to add depth to a character that's been written as pretty one-note, which is disappointing. He deserves better.

"Down in the Valley" is rated R for some strong scenes of violence (shootings and some domestic violence), occasional use of strong sexual profanity and other sexually frank language (including slang), simulated sex and other sexual contact, brief drug content (marijuana use), and some brief gore. Running time: 117 minutes.