Saturday, April 10, 2021

Redemption Road: The Music is Legit

There are no pets in this film. They would have died long ago for these characters. They get the blues, give the blues, live the blues, and sometimes even play the blues. The last part is inconveniently difficult for Jefferson Bailey. He fancies himself an aspiring blues musician, but he has a nasty case of stage fright. Unfortunately, he has even worse problems in Mario Van Peebles’ Redemption Road, which screens on the Grio TV.

During his time in Austin, Bailey has been binge-drinking and sleeping with the wife of the loan shark he is into, for far more than he can repay. The aggrieved Boyd is out to collect his interest and then some, so Bailey reluctantly agrees to return to Huntsville with the imposing Augy. Supposedly, he was hired by the estate of Bailey’s grandfather, to bring the prodigal underachiever home, so he can collect his legacy. However, the big man might have an ulterior motive for accepting the assignment.

There is real-deal blues music in
Redemption, often played in authentic looking road houses. Thanks to performances from the likes of Gary Clark Jr., James “Nick” Nixon, and Alabama Slim & Little Freddie King, real blues aficionados will forgive the film a lot, including all the cliches in Morgan Simpson and George Richards’ screenplay (which are plentiful). On the other hand, the scruffy white, goatee-wearing Simpson does not look very legit playing a blues musician, not even in hipster Austin.

Indeed, Simpson is by far the film’s weakest link. On the other hand, the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan is perfectly cast as the hulking but sensitive Augy and Tom Skerrit adds some grizzled charisma as Santa, his blues club proprietor crony. Duncan and Skerrit each have some nicely turned confessional speeches, but Bailey’s drama quickly grows tiresome. Still, Luke Perry deserves credit for wholeheartedly playing against type as the violent sleaze, Boyd.

In the case of
Redemption, you come for the music and you stay for the music. Van Peebles and cinematographer Matthew Irving make the film look great, by luxuriating in crimson gold sunsets and soaking up the delta country landscape, but the narrative is disappointingly predictable. Nevertheless, Duncan and Skerrit do more than their fair share to elevate the material.

When watching
Redemption, it sad to think Duncan, Perry, and Nixon have all left us. This film isn’t perfect, but it provides moments of them all that are worth remembering. Recommended for fans of the blues and southern-style road trip movies, Redemption Road airs Wednesday (4/14), Friday (4/16), and Sunday (4/16) on the Grio TV (and it streams on Prime).