The Riot Act, a theatrical release from Northwest Arkansas-based media company Hannover House, is an enjoyable Western thriller (there's a Deadwood meets The Phantom of the Opera vibe) allegedly based on a true story -- more likely a true legend -- about Van Buren's King Opera House, which is prominently featured and becomes a kind of character in the film.
The story goes that, not long after the opera house opened in 1901, a young actor in a traveling troupe fell in love with the daughter of a prominent local doctor. The two made plans to run away together, but the doctor intercepted them at the train depot and beat the young actor to death. It's said that the ghost of the victim haunts the King, and employees there have reported strange goings-on. Lights are turned off only to be found glowing in the morning. Some people have felt the presence of the spirit while in the building; a few others report having sighted the ghost itself.
The Riot Act
85 Cast: Lauren Sweetser, Brett Cullen, Connor Price, Micah Hauptman, Brandon Keener, Dean Denton
Director: Devon Parks
Rating: PG-13, for violence and brief drug material
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
A few years ago, Van Buren native Devon Parks made a 28-minute feature for AETN, Step Into The King Opera House, based on the ghost stories surrounding the venue. It won a regional Emmy and convinced Parks -- and more importantly The Riot Act producers -- that he could make a full-blown movie using the opera house and the material. The Riot Act is the handsome result.
One of those producers, Arkansas native Lauren Sweetser (Winter's Bone), stars as Allye Pearrow, daughter of "the world renowned physician" Dr. Willard Pearrow (Brett Cullen), the (fictional) owner of the King who takes issue with the romance. (It's interesting and probably not coincidental that Pearrow is a homonym for Perot, as in Ross, as in the grand theater in Texarkana.)
But Parks' script quickly dispenses with the boyfriend (who is shot, not beaten to death in this version) before the main title appears, and picks up the story two years down the road with the arrival of Cyrus Grimes' (Micah Hauptman) "high end" vaudeville revue, an eight-act extravaganza with a centerpiece performance that hits a little close to home for the the snobbish, racist doctor.
While there is a certain "aw, come on" factor in the overly embroidered script (which -- as with most movies -- is the weakest link in the chain), The Riot Act is a handsomely mounted if thoroughly conventional film. It's well shot in a stately amber mode by Travis Joiner. Van Buren is convincing as an early 20th-century version of itself, and the actors, especially Sweetser, acquit themselves well despite having to deliver a few clunker lines.
All in all, The Riot Act is an impressive accomplishment, and local audiences especially will find much to admire. But everyone involved will probably find themselves in better movies down the road.
MovieStyle on 09/21/2018
Print Headline: The Riot Act