I never heard of this movie before and didn’t really have a reason to watch it except that a weird dude I know through work insisted on loaning it to me. In a situation like that you never know. It could be the one.
It’s a good setup for a no-budget movie. There are only three actors in the whole thing and one of them has a bit part as a tow truck driver. It’s the story of a down-on-his-luck white dude named Ernie (Rusty Gray) whose car breaks down on a desert road one day. After hours of trying to wave someone down he’s finally picked up by a wealthy black man named Anthony (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs). Anthony’s on his way to Vegas for a wedding (could this be a sidequel to THE HANGOVER?), but he believes in a paying-it-forward type of philosophy so after initially passing Ernie he turns around and tries to help.
Ernie ends up guilting Anthony into driving him to a mechanic (30 miles away I guess?) to get help, and various things lead to them having to go back and forth. So it would be minimalistic even if it was a play – 95% of the movie is just these two strangers in a car talking.
I was definitely rooting for it to work, but it didn’t take long for the contrived conversation to make me wince. Of course they start telling each other all about their philosophies in life, their failed relationships, their childhood traumas. Both of them deliver tearful monologues. They tell jokes. They get angry at each other and make up several times. There must be at least 5 times when Anthony almost leaves Ernie on the side of the road and every time I was mad at him for deciding against it. At the point when he kicked him out of the car for asking when black people are gonna “get over” slavery I was hoping he’d also back over his foot.
There’s some odd homophobia. Ernie teases Anthony with a bunch of “you are gay” jokes and Anthony gets pissed and defensive about it. Ernie starts to say “not that there’s anything wrong with that” but then they both agree that that’s just being “politically correct.”
Despite that, Anthony is pretty charismatic. Hilton-Jacobs (Freddy “Boom Boom” Washington from Welcome Back Kotter, star of L.A. HEAT and L.A. VICE and Joseph Jackson in THE JACKSONS: AN AMERICAN DREAM) could be described as an Idris Elba type. He seems like the good guy here even though you find out some scary things about his past.
I think Ernie is supposed to be a flawed but likable character, but unfortunately he’s easy to hate. I don’t want to be a dick, but Gray does not cut it in the acting department. He doesn’t seem to be on the professional level of Hilton-Jacobs. I watched the whole movie believing this was some local theater guy who wrote this and saved up his money to make it as a directing and starring vehicle. Turns out he’s only the producer. He has some experience acting in bit parts like “Teenager” in a Hunter episode and “Bartender” in OUT OF DARKNESS, a 1994 TV movie starring Diana Ross in a Golden Globe nominated performance as a paranoid schizophrenic. He was also an uncredited set dresser on BAD SANTA, which I respect him for. Good job dressing sets. But he can’t pull off this dialogue, or difficult transitions like when they go from yelling at each other to thinking it’s funny and laughing at themselves.
Hilton-Jacobs mostly pulls off his part, but nobody was gonna make that emotional confession believable in context. He gave it a shot. Maybe the best thing he does is act with his eyes as he’s listening to Ernie’s stories. He misses one really good opportunity for humor, though, when he’s been trying to get Ernie out of the car at the gas station for lying to him, and suddenly Ernie gets real serious and quiet and starts telling a story about trying to commit suicide when he was a kid. Hilton-Jacobs shows nothing but empathy, but this would’ve been a good time for an exasperated wince of frustration that now he has to sit and listen to this sob story from a motherfucker he should be punching in the nose.
By the way, when I was looking for the movie poster to use on this review one of the things that came up in the Google image search was a sort of similar looking poster for an anti-Obama movie:
It was on a page where a guy reviewed this 2016 movie, and he said he drove 30 miles to see it, that’s why it came up in the search. OR SO THEY WANT YOU TO BELIEVE. I think there might be something more to this “both movies having a guy in profile and partly in shadow with a black background and chipped white paint on the title” business. I’m sending this to Fox and Friends.
Which reminds me, did you ever notice that a right wing news show is named after a Fassbinder movie about a gay carnival worker? I wonder what that’s all about. Anyway, back to the review, already in progress.
Have you ever watched a low budget movie and as soon as you saw the font at the beginning you thought uh oh, this is gonna be amateur hour? This had one of those fonts, but the movie is better than the font. It looks like film, and there’s some real driving footage at the beginning and stuff. But of course most of it is filmed with greenscreen driving and sometimes that’s humorously fake looking. There’s a part where Anthony turns off to the side of the road, but you can see that he just slides his hands across a stationary steering wheel, it doesn’t actually turn. The funniest fake out is when he’s supposed to be driving slowly next to Ernie, but Ernie’s obviously walking in place. They came up with a good scenario to keep the budget down, but it was still a little bit out of their reach.
Writer Cliff Gober has no other writing credits, director Ryan Harper only did a documentary short before this and nothing after. He did produce a few indie movies.
What did it mean that this movie was so important to the guy that he wanted me to see it? Did this story of bonding (and conflict) between races, between strangers, really ring true to him? How did he know about this movie that only has one external review on IMDb, and why did he buy it? Could he have known that he was putting me in an awkward situation sort of like fuckin Ernie puts Anthony in? I don’t think so. I don’t know.
“Yeah, it was… pretty good,” I said politely as I returned the DVD to the guy. “Thanks for loaning it to me.”