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'At Any Price': Not worth it

Dennis Quaid stars as a farmer trying to give competitors the agribusiness in "At Any Price," an uneven rural drama with Zac Efron.

CAPITALIST morality tales about men in expensive suits in corner offices are commonplace, but "At Any Price" is a different animal.

Here, the capitalist in question drives an air-conditioned super-tractor, and runs a commercial farming operation as large and complex - and as predatory - as any business you can name.

His name is Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid), a back-slapping businessman whose ingratiating smile, folksy plaid shirts and pressed jeans disguise a fairly ruthless set of business principles.

The seed corn for his burgeoning family business is . . . seed corn. He's contracted with a Monsanto-like firm to market their genetically modified seed to area farmers, a business so profitable he uses the proceeds to buy up or rent out as much acreage as he can acquire.

He's in a cut-throat competitive battle with another ambitious farmer (Clancy Brown), and could use some extra hands, but one son is away on a mountain-climbing adventure, and the other (Zac Efron) is a rebellious dirt-tracker who hates farming and has his sights set on NASCAR.

"At Any Price," has much to recommend it - it brings fresh perspective to an overlooked and often romanticized corner of American life, and there are some vivid and surprising character wrinkles.

The father-son conflict is pretty stale, but when dad takes on the son's bored and wayward girlfriend (Maika Monroe) as an intern, "At Any Price" begins to settle into a different, more comfortable and idiosyncratic rythym.

There's so much good here, you wish the movie were a little better. But so many details seem wrong. Quaid's performance, for instance, is pitched a little too high. We get that his character uses his hyper charm as a weapon, but he's too "on" too often.

And "At Any Price" builds to an Old Testament climax that feels out of joint with the rest of the movie.

A disappointment, given that "Price" is the first big-ish budget movie from revered American independent director Ramin Bahrani ("Chop Shop"), whose work deserves a broader audience.