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Senior Correspondent

For ages Hollywood has thrived on lurid tales of older men and younger women, so in the name of fair play we oughta give a pass to “The Lifeguard,” a film about a 29-year-old woman who has an affair with a 16-year-old skateboarder.

Liz W. Garcia’s debut feature (after several years writing and directing for episodic TV) wants to be taken seriously — but falls apart in the execution. Her screenplay introduces interesting, even provocative ideas, then undermines them with a general aura of seediness and a lack of direction.

Kristen Bell is Leigh, who as the film begins is a reporter in NYC. But in the wake of a failed romance and a feeling that her life isn’t going the way she planned, she returns to her small home town in Connecticut, moves in with Mom (Amy Madigan) and Dad, and reclaims the lifeguarding job that she gave up a decade earlier.

“I need to take time out from my life,” she explains.

Don’t we all?

Attempting to recover her past, Leigh reconnects with her two best buds from high school — Todd (Martin Starr), a gay guy with a dead-end job at an art gallery, and Mel (Mamie Gummer), who is now a vice principal at their old middle school. Mel is trying desperately (and somewhat unhappily) to get pregnant by her husband.

Leigh’s arrival is the catalyst for Todd and Mel to revert to their irresponsible high school personas. Even dicier is Leigh’s adoption of a gang of disaffected adolescent boys from her swimming pool. These beer-swilling skateboarders live in the hope of getting the hell out of a town they find oppressive and intolerant.

Worst of all, Leigh starts an affair with Jason (David Lambert), one of the teens. Which is more than just morally questionable. It’s criminal.

What are we to make of Leigh? Bell plays her, perhaps bravely, as a self-pitying, self-indulgent brat — a brat whose irresponsible actions threaten to bring down everyone around her.

I wish I could say I cared.

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