The little indie "Tennessee" squeezes super-celeb diva Mariah Carey into the humble role of Texas truck stop waitress.

It's a fairly meaty role (pardon the pun - she added weight for the part) and Carey does some surprisingly subtle work. She doesn't pick up a guitar and croon until the end of the movie, and even then, it's not the same gal you saw in "Glitter."

Carey plays Krystal, stuck in a dead-end job and oppressive marriage, who decides to skip town with a couple of brothers on their way to Nashville, where she'd like to start over as a singer.

The trio is pursued by Krystal's abusive husband (Lance Reddick), a down-tempo chase drama that's woven with the story of the brothers' own desperate pilgrimage.

Carter (Adam Rothenberg) is ferrying his desperately ill sibling (Ethan Peck) to Tennessee, hoping to find their estranged father, who may be able to provide life-saving bone marrow.

Road movies are known for their strange bedfellows, but there's something irreconcilable about Krystal's Nashville dream and the brothers' desperate medical situation (the scenario didn't work any better in "Boys on the Side").

Sometimes, each actor appears to be in his/her own movie, especially Rothenberg, whose Carter is a lumpen, inexpressive brooder.

"Tennessee" is occasionally a chore to sit through, but it does yield some third-act rewards for patient viewers, as the characters' willingness to sacrifice for the other is suddenly brought into sharp focus.

As for Carey's inevitable journey to the microphone, well, I'll admit that I'm not a fan, but her song "I've Got a Right to Dream" which she co-wrote with Willie Nelson, ain't half bad.

Neither's the movie, if you can make it all the way to Tennessee. *

Produced by Lee Daniels, directed by Aaron Woodley, written by Russell Schaumburg, music by Mario Grigorov, distributed by Vivendi Entertainment.