Friday, November 09, 2018

River Runs Red: The Judge Turns Jury and Executioner

If a conservative is a liberal who got mugged, what happens when a liberal judge’s son is killed by cops? Apparently, he turns vigilante. Frankly, we will be much better without cops who are this rock-stupid. Of course, they are racist too, or at least the really obnoxious, loud-mouthed one is. Alas, this movie is not so bright either. Any resemblance to logic or reality is purely a coincidence in Wes Miller’s River Runs Red (trailer here), which opens today in New Jersey.

C.J. Coleman, Jr was driving to his first day at the Police Academy, where he hoped to follow in the footsteps of his father, Judge Charles Coleman, a former cop, after having spent the last six months caring for lepers in Mother Theresa’s former Kolkata mission. Okay, we made the last part up. Regardless, it is pretty hard to believe two of the biggest meathead cops you ever laid eyes on could get away with planting a gun on the police cadet son of a sitting judge, after blowing him away in a hail of bullets during a completely gratuitous traffic stop, but that is what happens. In our world, they would be crucified by the media and politicians, but in Miller’s alternate universe, the city’s African American mayor circles the wagons around them.

Frustrated with the perfunctory investigation, Coleman turns to his former partner, Horace, a hardboiled undercover cop, who did a stint in Internal Affairs. He digs up the shooters’ dirty history, which leads the Judge to Javier Garcia, another grieving father. Initially, Coleman approaches him with a half-baked notion of suing the city, but they eventually agree on a more direct and Biblical course of action.

RRR is a strange mishmash of a film that seems carefully calibrated to alienate everyone and appeal to nobody. Black Lives Matter-style polemics sit uneasily side-by-side with cathartic payback in the tradition of Death Wish. Taye Diggs is actually rather intense and brooding as Judge Coleman, but he does not have five consecutive minutes of screen time in which his character’s behavior and decisions ring true. George Lopez looks alarmingly old and out of shape as Garcia, but at least he maybe deserves credit for De Niro-ing-up to play the schlubby, soul-sick father.

Surprisingly, the most interesting character is John Cusack’s Cassandra-like Horace, who powerlessly watches the all the tragedy go down. Arguably, it just might be Cusack’s best work since The Numbers Station, for whatever that dubious claim might be worth. In contrast, the two trigger cops are mirror image stereotypes: Luke Hemsworth portrays the guilt-ridden basket case, while Gianni Capaldi plays the abrasive, unrepentant racist.

Clearly, Miller desperately wants the right people to take RRR seriously, but he also tried to maintain its commercial appeal to mainstream, big-box-store-shopping consumers. That strategy is nearly always doomed to fail—and this is no exception. There are some nice performances in here that will make open-minded viewers root for the film to eventually pull its act together, but it just doesn’t happen. Not recommended, River Runs Red opens today (11/9) in the Tri-State Area, at the AMC Loews Jersey Gardens.