It’s always a danger when you have the same person do too many roles in a film. There have been notable exceptions, but the rule proves true enough to be considered an axiom. In this case we have the duet of Hunter Hill and Perry Moore co-directing and co-writing the script. The problem is that neither of them had done either of those things before. Their inexperience takes its toll on a film that had a lot of potential. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a project is to let it go. Unfortunately these two couldn’t give up even a little of that control. In the end you have a movie with a very powerful cast that can’t seem to salvage anything given them by Hill and Moore.
Billy (Garity) is pretty much a loser. We first find him at the hands of a merciless drug dealer, Red (Matthews). It appears that Billy’s girl, Hope (de Matteo) has stolen a rather large shipment of drugs and run. Red assumes Billy must be in on the theft, so now he’s going to kill him if he can’t turn over the drugs or the money they’re worth. Of course, Billy can’t do either, so his only recourse is to escape and find Hope. He does escape in a manner far too clever for this character to have come up with. He grabs Hope’s young son (Ford) and heads to his old hometown. In Lake City, his mother, Maggie (Spacek) is struggling trying to hang on to her home. There’s a development company that wants the land. She’s a bit shocked when Billy and Clayton, the boy, show up at her house. We’re made to understand that a tragedy involving a younger brother has caused a lifelong tension between the two. Billy’s not here for his mother. He’s trying to track down Hope. Unfortunately, Red and his boys show up first, giving Billy a limited time to make the situation good. Billy is also working on staying sober. He meets up with a woman who we are led to believe might have been a childhood crush. Jennifer (Romijn) is now a cop in the small town. Complications arise as Billy tries to deal with the drug situation and his various emotions elicited by his being home again.
This is an outstanding cast. There was outstanding potential. There are moments between Spacek and Garity that had the chance to be something truly special. They each had such incredibly strong emotions and burdens to share that you can’t help but expect quality stuff here. The material, more than any actor, let everyone down. Troy Garity is actually the weak link in that chain. He doesn’t give us a terrible performance, and he’s limited by a script that is all over the place. Still, he doesn’t compare favorably with the supporting cast, most of them terribly underused. If you’re a Sopranos fan, you’re likely looking forward to seeing Drea de Matteo again, but you’ll be disappointed that she has less than five minutes of screen time. Sissy Spacek is trying the hardest and can’t seem to find a rhythm anywhere in the film. The best performances are given by Rebecca Romijn and Keith Carradine in a throwaway role. Carradine makes incredible use of the very little he’s given. Dave Matthews gives up the band for a turn as the drug dealer Red. Stick to the band, Dave. The problem for the entire cast is that the script can’t seem to tie itself down to where or what it wants to be. At times the film tries hard to deal with family and this tragic event. The characters are left to fend for themselves as the film moves erratically from this family connection to a half hearted effort at an action film. At every turn the film presents you with a new twist, but the script doesn’t deliver you an unexpected turn. Instead every new “surprise” is revealed entirely too soon. The writers were trying to leave breadcrumbs, but instead littered the path with a big screen GPS complete with driving directions. The film attempts to give us a down home atmosphere that is far more down than home. My advice to the amateur writer/director team? Next time pick one subject and stick with it. Learn to walk before you run.
Lake City is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The amateur nature of the team is equally evident in the video presentation. There are moments the film has serious focus issues. Colors are soft. I was particularly annoyed by many of the outside scenes. The oranges and reds of the fall setting appear quite unnatural and, at least to me, a bit unnerving. It looked like they were trying for a 16mm look, only without the grain. It works only to distance the viewer from the material.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a mess. Dialog appears far away most of the time. That not only makes it difficult to hear at times, but outside of the experience. It’s all up front and might just as well have been a simple 2.0 mix.
I was very much ready to like this film a lot. The cast looked like a good one, and the idea held some intrigue for me. I didn’t even know at the time that the writing and directing was done by first timers. I made that call about ten minutes into the film. As soon as I came to that conclusion I went to the IMDB to see what credits the pair had. To no great surprise I found nothing listed. You’ll be tempted, as I was, by the cast. Forget about it. I’d like to go on, “But, we have to stop now”.