Scott Green
Gabe Nevins stars as Alex in "Paranoid Park," a thriller directed by Gus Van Sant.
PARANOID PARK — ** — Gabe Nevins, Daniel Liu; rated R (violence, profanity, brief gore, brief sex, vulgarity, slurs, drugs)

As odd as it might sound, "Paranoid Park" is actually an attempt by Gus Van Sant to make a fairly straight-forward movie.

But his latest, an adaptation of Blake Nelson's young-adult novel of the same name, is still pretty out there. This less-than-involving, skateboarding-culture thriller is still not likely to go over well with any audiences outside of the already receptive, art-house crowd.

Still, given that Van Sant's recent movie output consists of the patience-testing trilogy of "Elephant," "Gerry" and "Last Days," as well as the perplexing, shot-for-shot remake of "Psycho," maybe it really is his most "mainstream" work in quite some time.

The title refers to a skateboarding park in the Portland, Ore., area that's frequented by preteens, teens and adults, including a few drifters. And it's become a favorite destination for Alex (Gabe Nevins), a local high school student.

However, he falls in with the wrong crowd. Another skater offers Alex the opportunity to "ride the rails" at a local train yard. But their train-hopping "joy ride" results in the accidental death of a security guard.

Van Sant and his cinematographers, Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li, obviously watched the skateboarding documentary "Dogtown and Z-Boys" a lot in preparation for this film. This film features the same, dream-like tracking shots of skateboarding action.

But it's difficult to follow the film's fractured narrative. Scenes are retold or repeated, as if to simulate the main character's attention-deficit mind-set.

Also, Van Sant may be casting some of his movies with amateurs for "authenticity," but that's not always a good thing. The fresh-faced Nevins does try, but he's not an experienced pro. The character he's playing is so self-involved that it's hard to sympathize or care about him.

"Paranoid Park" is rated R for some brief but disturbing violence (a train-pedestrian accident), some strong sexual language (profanity and some frank sex talk), brief gore, brief sex, derogatory slurs and drug references. Running time: 85 minutes.