Bad Country: Film Review

Curious throwback can't capitalize on the best conventions of the genre. 

Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger co-star in Chris Brinker's final film.

Something of a cinematic artifact that's either mildly intriguing or entirely forgettable, perhaps depending on any latent nostalgia for 80s-set crime thrillers, Bad Country represents the only feature directed by Boondock Saints producer Chris Brinker prior to his death last year. While this genre throwback shares some similarities to the Saints films, it's not likely to occasion a level of mildly cultish enthusiasm comparable to Troy Duffy's two features. Theatrical play appears to be a formality necessitated by the cast packaging, although late-night cable is more likely the movie's native territory.

Badass Baton Rouge police detective Bud Carter (Willem Dafoe) knows that his arrest of recently released prison convict and hired killer Jesse Weiland (Matt Dillon) on drug and weapons charges has the potential to blow the lid off a regional organized-crime syndicate, but without support from federal prosecutors, his department won't be able to launch the large-scale investigation required.

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By convincing Weiland to become an informant in order to avoid a long prison term and protect his young wife, Lynn (Amy Smart), and newborn son from ruthless crime boss and white supremacist Lutin Adams (Tom Berenger), Carter's able to get the FBI to take on the case, although now he has to take orders from upstart agent Fitch (Chris Marquette), who's looking to make his mark with the agency. Fitch's attempt to flush Adams out with an improbable sting operation involving Middle Eastern arms dealers ends badly, exposing Weiland's betrayal and provoking merciless retribution from Adams, who's also put a hit out on Carter. If either expects to survive, Weiland and Carter will need to get to Lutin before the feds can.

For his debut feature, Jonathan Hirschbein's generically simplistic script at least has the virtue of familiarity, with an arc recognizable from countless B-movie crime dramas. Keeping Carter and Weiland in almost constant conflict is the first requirement, along with playing them off against a large supporting cast of criminal and law-enforcement types.

For most of these actors, almost exclusively male, their roles represent some variation on parts they've played before. Dafoe brings a world-weary determination to Carter's perspective that's functional enough without breaking any molds. Dillon appears less committed to Weiland, perhaps understandably, as the script shifts his motivations repeatedly. But without much killing to do, he never impresses as a trained assassin. Presumably a criminal kingpin should commit some pretty serious onscreen crimes, but Berenger is forced to mostly talk tough and look menacing rather than engage in any real action prior to the final reel.

Whether Brinker had anything more complex in mind than the potboiler engendered by Hirschbein's script is debatable, but the filmmaking doesn't demonstrate any greater range of artistry than the screenwriting, so it seems unlikely. Scenes often appear to be shot with more attention to economizing resources than creating atmosphere, with the Louisiana setting mostly squandered on establishing shots and cutaways.

Opens: April 29 (Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Production companies: CB Productions, ANA Media, Mandalay Vision

Cast: Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Neal McDonough, Amy Smart, Chris Marquette, Don Yesso, Kevin Chapman, Bill Duke, Christopher Denham, Lazarus Jackson, Jeff Leaf

Director: Chris Brinker

Screenwriter: Jonathan Hirschbein

Producers: Chris Brinker, Jim Crabbe, Scott Einbinder, Kevin Chapman, Nancy Green-Keyes, Matthew Rhodes

Executive producers: Bud Connor, Mike Barnett, Jeff Steen, Mike Brinker, Justin Bursch, Patrick Newall, Don Yesso, Don Carmody, David Krintzman, Cole Hauser, Jonah Loop

Director of photography: Zoran Popovic

Production designer: Tom Lisowski

Costume designer: Mary E. McLeod

Music: John Fee, Jeff Danna

Editors: Michael J. Duthie, Howard E. Smith

Rated R, 95 minutes