The straight to DVD genre of films has never appealed much to my appetite for cinematic intake. Not like every film that makes it to theatres is a masterpiece, but most of the time I am just never satisfied or nourished by movies of this nature, unless they star famous hip hop artists whose music I enjoy and whose attempts at acting I enjoy laughing at. The scriptwriting found in the genre is always a hokey, embarrassing abortion and the acting falls somewhere below that. I am left ruminating on such questions as: do the people responsible for these films have some serious psychological diagnoses that have gone undiagnosed their whole lives, and more importantly, when they watch the final cut of their work do they proclaim “this is fucking incredible”?
In many aspects, Josh Logan’s hitchhiking psycho-drama “Family” is a color by numbers straight to DVD nightmare, though somehow, as a whole, it is a decent film. And I mean decent in the best possible way that the adjective decent can be meant, e.g. getting thrown in jail for the night ended up being decent, my cellmate was a flamboyant transgender escort who made insinuating jokes about me, not, I slept with that Victoria ‘s Secret model from the commercial and it was decent.
“Family” begins with a female convict, in her orange one piece, escaping from prison through a wheat field of some sort. The visuals fade in and out to black in a poor attempt to immediately grasp the viewer’s attention. I recall this exact technique being used in the opening sequence of the Johnny Depp starring indie western “Dead Man”. That turned out to be a decent film, though it was of the latter kind as stated above for it was excruciatingly boring.
Jean (Renee Humphrey) is an escapee with a predilection for theft, a laundry list of failed relationships and a trashy mother. We learn this within the first five minutes of the film. Her character does not really progress much from that. Maybe she is meant to have some great revelation towards the end of the film, but the writing is so banal that it just doesn’t come through. Stranded out in the countryside with nothing but a pair of daisy dukes and a twenty spot she stole from a nice old couple whom she gagged and bound, Jean takes an ill-fated ride with burgeoning head case Eldon (Boyd Kestner) and his son Cole (Tanner Richie).
Long car rides can turn anyone violent, what with the body odor and mindless chatter, but on Eldon’s trip, sh*t gets wild. Secrets about Eldon’s life are fed to us evenly and the tension is meant to mount with each one. He was a cop. His wife left him and took their kid. The kid in the car isn’t his. He starts killing people, etc. While you can safely assume that I am not at all impressed with the screenplay — and I will get to that — I found Boyd Kestner’s performance to be fantastic.
Kestner is why “Family” is rentable and not a complete waste of DVD’s. As Eldon, he perches himself delicately on the edge of moral respectability and utter insanity, making the character truly evil. We know he is off the moment he cracks his first make-believe corny dad smile, and Kestner never allows the character to slip throughout the film.
Why “Family” is only a decent film is because of the script. Writer Hudson Shock’s treatment is so mediocre and predictable that I will estimate it took him less than one day to finish it. The big, underlying messages fall loose leaf flat, and the attempts to create “noir” characters, like the two diner owning killer queens, is similarly limp. And the outlandishly literal playing out of one of those major themes at the end of the film is enough to make one cringe in disbelief. I won’t ruin the surprise, but once a point is guilelessly drilled into your head for an hour and a half by weak dialogue, does it really need to be shown visually for extra reinforcement? Is the public that analytically deficient?
When “Family” is released and available, I say check it out sometime. Watch a relatively unknown actor give a great performance that will make you uncomfortable and temporarily weary of both your own father and cops, or even worse, your own father who is a cop. Support a decent film which was most likely made from just a decent amount of money, and expect a decent amount of satisfaction when it is over.
J.M. Logan (director) / Hudson Shock (screenplay)
CAST: Boyd Kestner …. Eldon
Ren’e Humphrey …. Jean
Tanner Richie …. Cole
Joe Russo …. Luke
Dave Fennoy …. Glen McKenzie
Durek Verett …. Robbie
Kristen Rajterowski …. Ida