Todd McCarthy

Set in a desolate speck of a town notably populated almost exclusively by attractive women, "Nevada" is a feminist-slanted search-for-identity study that holds the interest more by virtue of its peculiarity than for any coherent dramatic reasons. Intriguingly cast and nicely shot, pic possesses elements that could entice fest, highly specialized and curious cable audiences, but is too ephemeral and low-key to generate significant theatrical action.

Writer-director Gary Tieche spins a vaguely intriguing but scarcely compelling web of mystery around his leading lady, Chrysty (Amy Brenneman), who first appears walking along a desert highway carrying nothing and heading nowhere in particular. The first town she hits is Silver City, population 127, where she helps a woman named June (Bridgitte Wilson) through childbirth and is then rewarded by being obliged to look after June's young son for awhile. A seed of intrigue is planted with the revelation that June's husband, Rip (James Wilder), who, along with nearly all the town's men, works at a faraway dam and returns only on weekends, is not the newborn's father.

Evening brings the opportunity to meet the rest of the gang at the local bar, presided over by the butch Ruth (Dee Wallace Stone) and her earth-mother g.f., Ruby (Kathy Najimy), and prominently patronized by the girlish Linny (Gabrielle Anwar), who is Rip's sister; willowy Quinn (Saffron Burrows); and the judgmental, gun-toting McGill (Kirstie Alley).

Although there are the inevitable jibes and disagreements, the women form a tight group, and they are naturally curious about what brought this provocative and attractive stranger into their midst. It doesn't take long for them to find out that Chrysty has abandoned a husband and three kids back home, and when Linny impulsively calls Chrysty's husband, West (Angus Macfadyen), and tells him where his wife is, the scene is set for the climactic confrontation that will reveal both the reasons for Chrysty's desertion and her intentions for the future.

Almost a modern extension of "A Doll's House" in that it begins where Ibsen's classic drama ends, with the wife walking out of the house, pic is interested in its women finding definition independent of men and family as well as in relation to them. Along the way, a few modest alternatives are offered via the lifestyles of the women on view, but none seem very fulfilling. Chrysty's choice feels like a distant echo of the feminist battle cry for women's liberation from household drudgery. Film offers no challenging new insights on that score.

But the characters are varied and unpredictable enough to stir a certain interest, performances across the board are alert even if they don't go too deep, and technical aspects are strong, notably Nancy Schreiber's richly colorful lensing.