Freedomland is a thriller that begins in the throes of one woman's personal disaster: After being carjacked with her four-year-old son still in the backseat, Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore) wanders into the emergency room, her hands covered in blood. She describes her attacker as an African American man from the projects, an accusation that quickly instigates an escalation of racial tensions between the police force and the projects' community. Similarly, watching Freedomland is like walking into the throes of a directorial disaster, one for which we can thank Joe Roth (who's also helmed such classics as Christmas with the Kranks and Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise).

The plot's premise could have made for an interesting film, as could its cast. But Julianne Moore, who has proven herself in the past as a gifted actress in films like The Hours, or even Boogie Nights, turns in a humiliatingly scattershot performance, although I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to Roth's misguided influence. But Moore should know better—her Martin never comes together as a solid entity; it's as though Moore is experimenting with three or more angles on how to play the character, and she constantly mixes and matches approaches.

The other star roped into this catastrophe is Samuel L. Jackson, as Inspector Council, the police detective in charge of Martin's case. Although Council's character is more solid, he's also ridiculously incompetent—the character's unrealistic chain of decision making is distracting. In fact, the only non-distracting character in the film is Edie Falco's—she somehow makes chicken salad out of chickenshit with her role as the head of a grassroots organization that finds missing children.

But the worst part is the competent plot and intriguing ideas that lay, in plain sight, just beneath this mess. Instead of living up to its promise, Freedomland is content to flagrantly waste its scintillating subject matter, twisting itself into a rat's nest of illogical characters and sequences of events.