'The Grace of Jake': Film Review

Courtesy of Indican Pictures
Local color helps an easygoing but uneven buried-secrets drama.

A newcomer with a grudge arrives in a small Arkansas town in Christopher Hicky's debut.

A drifter with a guitar stirs things up in Christopher Hicky's small-town yarn The Grace of Jake, rolling into tiny Palestine, Arkansas, and admitting up front that "I came here to kill somebody." That threat notwithstanding, menace is not the primary mode of this easygoing, slice-of-life film, whose best moments find that drifter (real-life musician/actor Jake La Botz) making friends with unexpectedly welcoming locals. With a little more fine-tuning, Hicky's feature debut might have made a stab at the fest circuit; as it stands, its take on grudges and reconciliation will play best with heartland viewers on video.

Though strong in musical scenes, star La Botz is far from the most able actor here. In fact, in a film notable for mixing white and black actors without making a big deal of it, most of the Caucasian thesps appear to be trying too hard — working to show how past misfortunes have left them with chips on their shoulders. (Michael Beck, star of The Warriors and Xanadu, is an exception, relaxed in his portrayal of ornery crop duster Henry.)

La Botz's title character arrives in Palestine with a guitar case, a pistol and sticky fingers: Even when strangers offer hospitality, he's often eyeing something additional he might stick in his pocket when no one is looking. He befriends Booster (first-timer Andrew H. Walker), who brings him to church. There, a minister tending to a dwindling flock (Dorien Wilson) sees the stranger's musical talent as a possible draw.

Enjoyable, meandering scenes unfold as African-American townsfolk try to help Jake find his footing here, and for a spell, he seems to forget the score-settling that has brought him to town. Instead of contenting itself with a flirtation between Jake and a local hair stylist (Chad Morgan's Sheila), the film contrives a strained romantic conflict in which, without intending to, Jake makes multiple people jealous at once. Things get a bit busier than this modest film requires, but rural languor prevails in the end — if not with the "grace" of the title, at least with forgiveness.

Production company: Hicky/Wiebler

Distributor: Indican Pictures

Cast: Jake La Botz, Michael Beck, Andrew H. Walker, Jordin Sparks, Chad Morgan, Ravi Kapoor, Matt Orduna, Dorien Wilson

Director-Screenwriter: Christopher Hicky

Producers: Steven Brown, Christopher Hicky, Jake La Botz, Michael Wiebler

Director of photography: Blake McClure

Editor: Ryan Kendrick

Composer: George Stanford

92 minutes