Friday, June 21, 2013

Rushlights: Hot, Dry, and Noir

In the Lone Star State, estate law is a big deal.  Smelling the money, crack-heads and secret progeny will come out of the woodwork for a Texas-sized inheritance in Antoni Stutz’s sweaty small town noir, Rushlights (trailer here), which opens today at the Picture House in Pelham, New York.

Not long after Billy Brody finally puts the moves on Sarah, the greasy spoon waitress he has been swooning for, she calls him in a state of panic.  Ellen Niles, her crack-addict roommate has overdosed.  Normal people would simply call the police, but not Billy and Sarah.  They are heading out of town as fast as his beater can take them, but not without a dubious plan.

Sarah bears an uncanny resemblance to her dearly departed roommate, who just received a letter informing her she is the sole heir of the rich uncle she hardly knew.  Billy and Sarah are off to Texas to collect in her place.  However, problems will follow them from the big city.  It turns out there is a reason Sarah was rooming with a hardcore druggie.  It also seems there might be an unacknowledged son looking to claim the estate for himself—and he’s a real bastard.

It is kind of amusing to watch Rushlights string along one highly improbable scene after another, with a perfectly straight face.  Right from the first ridiculously convenient accidental gun discharge, viewers should realize what they are in for.  However, veteran character actors Beau Bridges and Aidan Quinn are actually a lot of fun to watch doing their suspicious Jim Thompson thing as good old boy Sheriff Robert Brogden, Jr. and his glad-handing lawyer brother, Cameron Brogden, respectively.  Both are in fine form strutting about and chewing the scenery.

In contrast, the young leads are decidedly lightweight, particularly the underwhelming Josh Henderson and his high school freshman starter moustache as Brody.  Haley Webb has a bit more presence as Sarah, Ellen, or whoever she is, but she does not project the femme fatale sense of danger the genre demands.

At least cinematographer Gregg Easterbrook gives it the right hot-in-the-shade inflamed passions noir look, in the tradition of Red Rock West and Blood Simple.  As a director, Stutz also maintains a respectable pace, but as a co-writer, with Ashley Scott Meyers, he overindulges in contrivance while avoiding logic like the plague.  Frankly, Rushlights would be perfect viewing for a lazy somewhat hung-over weekend afternoon, but its probably not worth commuting from the City to Westchester when it opens today (6/21) at the Picture House, as well the Chinese 6 in LA and the Premiere Renaissance in Houston.