A deeply Southern-fried action film with a moderate budget but a lot of energy, this almost-successful romp has a trio of bedraggled bounty hunters/brothers recovering a young woman’s godson from her drug kingpin husband. We open with our “heroes”, three disgusting, scary looking white dudes in Confederate garb who are armed with multiple weapons each, taking down a suburban drug den; the punchline, after everyone in the house is dead, is a casual, “I think this is the wrong house…”. The three brothers are hired by an improbably good looking gal who witnessed the raid to kidnap her godson away from her sociopathic husband, who also gave her a parting gift of three bullets in the gut. With that fairly limited information, and an upfront payment of 5 thousand smackers, they proceed to Mississippi where their machismo, the element of surprise, and their plain bumfuck attitude make the mission a swift success. However, there is one element to the plot they did not count on; the kid is a mentally handicapped 17-year old. Now the three dudes have to get this kid back to Texas with the kingpin, the cops, and the FBI hunting them down, not to mention the various gangs the drug lord has in his employ…
The film comes out swinging; within a minute of the opening shot, a head gets blown off through a peephole by a sawed-off shotgun. The first half-hour of the film achieves an anarchic sense of energy with its three unknown leads amorally tearing shit up while endearingly giving each other shit in a brotherly way. The elements seem to be setting up a slightly intricate story with some possible payoffs: the sheriff of the town (played by Andre Braugher) is a very laid-back bumpkin with his own notions of personal justice, the drug kingpin is a manic, soul-patched smartass played by Billy Bob Thornton, and a gang of scantily-clad prostitutes/killers doggedly pursues our central trio. The comic energy and tension escalate with every plot twist, and the stage is set for an epic showdown. However, the film shares more in common with Smokin’ Aces than its toothless hillbilly trio of killers; it is also an anticlimactic disappointment (albeit without that film’s star power and production values). While gang after gang is dispatched after the trio, and they have to navigate various sticky situations with the kid in hand, the action beats do not escalate in invention of energy, and the climactic gunfight is actually the weakest of the set pieces. One chase scene, opening with a scream of, “Welcome to the South, motherfuckers!” and set to the legendary guitar solo from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird”, is ready to become The Road Warrior of the Dirty South before we see that the bulk of the action disappointingly takes place offscreen. The kid being handicapped also saps the film of its early sense of humor, and drags the film into a more sincere territory than I think it had any right to venture to. It is one thing to watch a film about three psychos gleefully killing, maiming, or blasting anything that comes in their path; it is a distinctly lesser thing to see those same three psychos learn the err of their ways from a mentally and physically crippled surrogate for their own insecurities.
The cast is fairly low-fi, with Thornton and Eva Longoria being the biggest names in the cast. The three lead are able to create a searing impression due to their complete unfamiliarity, and it’s easy to see them immersed in their characters, even at the soft, forced ending. Eva Longoria, as the mysterious dame that sends our heroes on their mission, is way too pretty and clean to seem like she’s mixed up with these nefarious character; no dialogue about how she’s “too pretty for these parts” can cover up how a woman with a drug dealer husband and three bullets in her belly looks like she walked off 5th Avenue and onto the killers’ dirt-ridden property. Braugher is typically awesome as the corrupt local sheriff, Zoe Bell makes a welcome appearance as a badass female gang leader, and Thornton is predictably scummy and funny as the big baddie, but Michael Rapaport, in a guest appearance as a bartender, is the best of the supporting cast. His scenes, and his work in them, are so damned funny and fully realized that they bring his completely minor character back in the end credits for outtakes revealing the extent of Rapaport’s expert ad-libbing. With a more prolific ensemble cast, a la Smokin’ Aces, this film could’ve gotten the momentum or the budget to become something bigger and more memorable; as is, it is a fun, breezy taste of southern action, Smokin’ Aces by way of Craig Brewer, that is probably better enjoyed at home with friends than with a 12 dollar ticket and 20 dollar snacks.
Slightly Recommended to fans of Smokin’ Aces or the films of Craig Brewer, namely Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan, which share this film’s patented mix of southern grime and clever, ironic dialogue; but, for god’s sake, see those flicks first.