Title: Redemption Road
Director: Mario Van Peebles
Starring: Michael Clarke Duncan, Morgan Simpson, Tom Skerritt, Kiele Sanchez, Luke Perry, Taryn Manning
At times, a film will come in boasting (or relying on) a major weapon to entertain audiences: For Avatar, it was the state-of-the-art 3D; most recently, The Help leaned on the brilliant performances by the ensemble cast. With “Redemption Road”…it’s the soundtrack.
That’s not to say the other elements of this 90 minute feature are all flawed; but the smooth bluesy tunes will linger in your mind for days. In fact, many of the lyrics act as the narrator on this journey of forgiveness and second-chances.
The story revolves around Jefferson Bailey (Morgan Simpson), a once talented musician who can rock the blues like no other. Right now, he presently rocks the bottle as he basks in an alcoholic haze, and can no longer face the stage in Austin, Texas. Enter in the cowboy hat wearing Augy (Michael Clarke Duncan), who tells Jefferson that he is an executor to an estate one of his relatives left to him in Huntsville, Alabama. The item outlined in the will is simply a safe deposit box at a local bank. Augy tries to convince Jefferson to stop drinking for a bit and climb aboard his precious steed (beat-up pickup truck), but Jefferson isn’t having any of that. That is until a local cat named Boyd (Luke Perry in badass mode) comes looking to collect some overdue money he lent Jefferson. Rather than face the wrath of Boyd, Jefferson “relents” and the two enter down a path of finding out who they really are. A revelation neither of them is fully prepared for.
The script written by Morgan Simpson and George Richards provides a rich, deep dialogue that is balanced out with on-screen musical performances that will have one constantly tapping their feet to the groove. The audience may want to applaud after every musical number that takes place in a variety of dive-bars. All the character performances are spot-on too and that is especially true for the relative unknown in Morgan Simpson. His character is relatable and you can feel the emotion the guy is pouring out. Plus, his chemistry with Michael Clarke Duncan provides comical moments sprinkled throughout the feature. Every key character has substance and the script provides ample time for the viewer to get know them just enough.
Although the majority of the focus is on the Jefferson and Augy characters, the timely interjection of a couple roles for our leads to play-off adds some depth to the spiritual tale. Kiele Sanchez is playing the lost love interest and the venerable Tom Skerritt clocks in as the old bar owner who is more-or-less a Yoda figure to Augy and eventually Jefferson. The working in of these two subplots just over halfway through provided a nice wrinkle in this wordy, musical odyssey.
By the way, Mario Van Peebles is no slouch at the helm of this production. Known mostly for his acting resume, the guy has nearly thirty directing credits (New Jack City & a variety of network TV shows) over the last twenty-five years. His symbolic cinematography tells the story better than the dialogue & performances do in select sequences. Sure the script isn’t all that taxing from a mechanical standpoint, yet there’s a decent amount of thought put into every shot.
The only real knock on this flick is the pacing at the end comes across a little too tidy. The delivery of the story was methodical and smooth; much like the attractive soundtrack. That said, the ending felt rushed, and in some cases, contradictory to how the characters were established. The second twist if you will, just seems like a pile-on effect and the story didn’t require it. This change of pace catches one off guard, yet the overall experience maintains enough moxie to get the message across.
This story is about the journey, not the destination. In movie review terms: the first two acts are engaging enough to maintain the viewer’s interest but the levels after the initial climax drop-off.
Overall, Redemption Road turns out to be a raw faith-based genre pic with a coming-of-age aesthetic. Religion gone semi-wild is a phrase that comes to mind after taking this in. Thankfully, the spiritual hooks are not laid on as thick as the lively soundtrack. For the most part, the gritty tale keeps the tonal beat it set out to, despite the closing number being a tad underwhelming and generic.
Did I mention how good the soundtrack is?
Review by Joe Belcastro