LITTLE ROCK The best cop reporter I ever knew couldn’t write a lick.
I’m not going to name names, because he’s kind of a hero to me, and he knows that what I’m saying is true. He was a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of guy, and he had an uncanny ability to get all manner of people to tell him things they probably shouldn’t have told him.
But when it came to writing down his stories in English, he was strictly functionally illiterate. He was the kind of guy who would have been happy to call his stories in to the rewrite desk, to let the wordy guys pretty them up.
Curt Hahn’s Deadline put me in mind of that reporter. Because it’s got the facts - it’s based on a true story - and enough inherent drama to carry a feature film. It’s just told in the most conventional, on-the-nose way possible. Its idea of subtle exposition is to have characters hold up newspapers with headlines filling us in on the progress of the story. Where buildings come with labels like “Medical Center.” To put it bluntly, it lacks style.
And I hate to say that because it’s the kind of movie you want to root for - a legitimate independent production made by people who care deeply about what they’re doing. It’s just, well, too straightforward for critics and “sophisticated” moviegoers (by which I mean people who don’t run off in panic when the train pulls into the station).
You can tell where they didn’t have enough money to throw around, where they hired people they liked for roles that were just a little beyond their current capabilities.
Deadline is the sort of movie where it’s easy to see the difference between seasoned pros - Eric Roberts, who really is underused by Hollywood, genuinely shines here, while the songwriter J.D. Souther exudes patrician charm as a terminal columnist - and aspiring hobbyists.
The opening scene sets the unsubtle tone for the film: In 1993, a young black couple ticks off references to Nikki Giovanni, Bill Clinton, Maya Angelou and half the Ivy League, then moments later the male half gets blown away. Noooooo!!!
Now you’re in the present day, and Nashville Times reporter Matt Harper (Steve Talley) is investigating the murder of a white police chief that just might have (you think?) a connection to the unsolved (and pretty much, unlooked into) earlier crime.
It gets its average grade because it’s not evil and it’s enjoyable in the same way the really terrible movies featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 were enjoyable (or at least it was for me and my jaded sensibilities). It’s not meant to be funny, though, it’s meant to be a valentine to investigative journalism and a pocket version of Mississippi Burning, but all it really is is a well-intentioned mess.
None of us should ever speak of it again.
Eric Roberts, Steve Talley, Lauren Jenkins, Jackie Welch, J.D. Souther, Maisha Dyson
PG-13, for thematic material
MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 04/20/2012
Print Headline: Deadline