Redemption Road (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Redemption Road (2010)

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There are fewer talents working in film today that confuse me as much as Mario Van Peebles.  Son of the legendary Melvin (he of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and Classified X), Mario has skirted around the controversial subject matter his father confronted and instead positioned himself as an earnest, but bland, filmmaker.  It's not entirely fair to compare the works of someone who starred in Solo (not Salo, please don't make that mistake) to someone who learned French to defy a racist film system, but I have to wonder where Mario is coming from and Melvin is the only reasonable starting point.

I'm more worried now than before because Mario at least had something interesting to work with in All Things Fall Apart.  That's not a film which set the critical and cultural scales on fire, but at least displayed a humbling side of a lucky superstar who had the level of self-reflection to know how lucky he is.  Redemption Road, by a nearly embarrassing contrast, centers around a self-important Blues playing drifter who is the victim in his and everyone else's life, but also the redeemer.

Morgan Simpson, who is the producer, screenwriter, and star of the film, has nothing important to say about his own life, let alone those unfortunate enough to get caught in his wake.  In a film which allows Luke Perry to don a tanktop and do an unfortunately timed impersonation of Justified's Boyd Crowder, we get to see a sad man perform the most standardized and defanged blues possible.  There is no sin committed here by others which has not been already gone through Morgan's list of actions, which only further underlines the pathetic attempts to elicit our sympathies for him.

Essentially, we have a blues-laden version of the kind of easy redemption tale put to death by the likes of Garden State.  But instead of an indie pop soundtrack, we have the Blue's to guide us into the slow sobriety of Bailey (Simpson) as he deals with the death of his grandfather and heads home to claim his unspecified inheritance.  This travelogue comes complete with the untimely death of his father, an introduction of a completely unrelated costar, and a large number of knowing glances to AA handbooks.  Yes, this is a film which actually writes itself.

Terrible premise aside, there are still aspects of Redemption Road which are interesting, especially in the area of secular spiritual studies.  Despite how it seems the heavy hand of God is in full-effect during the film, especially after a monolithic church makes it's appearance, the spirituality is very dulled and non-denominational.  It's clearly modeled after Christianity but Jesus is rarely named directly and Michael Clarke Duncan's mysterious lawyer / collections guy / guru (the reveal is less interesting than guessing) gets by simply by believing there is something larger than he is and to go about as humbly as possible.

Taken another way, Lars Von Trier tried to teach us all the same lesson in Melancholia.  Trier lays the message on in a thick wave of metaphor that natural laws, and Atheistic scriptures, are larger than ours and will ultimately lead us into the calming apocalypse.  Mario Van Peebles just let's the unfocused spirituality seep into the music and events, showing a world far too patient to deal with the likes of Bailey.  But the effect is intriguing, hinting the real strength of a film and faith lies not in the unspoken alchemy of performers and directors, but an acknowledged combination of the two.

In this light, and given how pathetic Bailey is as a character, I'm tempted to read this movie as a meta-commentary by the director on the horrible cliche's handed to him through Simpson's script.  Whatever power Simpson wields through the film industry has allowed him to yield a scary amount of creative control over two different selfishly propelled redemption stories (see Clear Lake, WI).  But whatever tension I read into the product isn't on the same wavelength as Herzog and Kinski, just people who didn't want to be making the same movie.

I'm tired of seeing films where the overpriveleged white guy gets to be the survivor and hero at the end because bad things happen to him and, yay, privilege means he gets to survive.  This is partly why I've avoided The Descendants for so long, but it applies at all levels of the film spectrum.  I want to see a Van Peebles film burning this kind of entitled nonsense to the ground.

There are peeks and glimpses at the edge of Redemption Road, but I want the whole thing torn to shreds.

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Redemption Road (2010)

Directed by  Mario Van Peebles.
Screenplay by  Morgan Simpson.
Starring Morgan Simpison and Mario Van Peebles.

Posted by Andrew

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