American Violence, 2017.
Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr.
Starring Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau, Denise Richards, Michael Paré, Columbus Short, Emma Rigby, Johnny Messner, Patrick Kilpatrick, Nick Chinlund, Rob Gronkowski, and Bruce Dern.
Fascinated by the root causes of violent behavior, world renowned psychologist, Dr. Amanda Tyler, has an opportunity to interview and analyze death row inmate Jackson Shea. As the interview commences, and Jack’s fate hangs in the balance, Amanda must determine whether or not a stay of execution should be granted.
Every once in a blue moon a movie comes along toting a veteran actor who you can’t help but wonder how they got roped into such low-profile, amateurish garbage. Enter American Violence which somehow has Bruce Dern in it. Granted, he is only in the movie for roughly a combined 10 minutes, but still, it’s sad watching him reduced to such bargain bin quality after Quentin Tarantino gave him one hell of a role in The Hateful Eight, which wasn’t long after his Oscar-nominated turn in Nebraska. I’ll probably never get the answer to my question, but the first few minutes of American Violence are genuinely hilarious; Bruce Dern plays a cantankerous old man complaining to his wife about how she incorrectly made his breakfast before something unfortunate happens and we transition to the real story.
American Violence (directed by Timothy Woodward Jr., who appears to have directed a number of other generic looking action thrillers) has the lofty ambition in mind of taking down the American justice system, specifically the death penalty, all while exploring the origins of violence and whether or not all murderers are raging psychopaths killing with no motive. The decided method for accomplishing such a goal is by having a renowned psychologist (Denise Richards) interview death row inmate Jackson Shea (Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau, who is basically a cheap knockoff of Charlie Hunnam and sounds ridiculous trying to deliver lines with a troubled and gritty voice) to determine whether he deserves a stay of execution, where the audience is subjected to a number of flashbacks regarding his traumatic past. Ultimately, while this man has committed terrible crimes, the point is to somewhat justify his actions to a sympathetic level that is enough to spare him lethal injection.
Fair enough, that premise actually sounds intriguing with many moral gray areas to tackle. However, the execution is completely squandered leaving a movie that is largely unwatchable. As mentioned, there are numerous flashbacks delving into different areas of this violent man’s life ranging from childhood to adulthood, all with one thing in common; a traumatic experience that pushes the man further and further into unhinged territory hellbent on revenge with nothing to lose. American Violence tosses in everything from sordid child molesting uncles to a life of crime to a true love, except none of it is handled remotely in a way that doesn’t elicit loads of unintentional laughter. The soundtrack is the most over-the-top, sappy, and out of place nonsense; it tries to garner far too much unearned emotion. Even the presentation of the scenes are horrifically bad, with an ending that had me howling for the completely unnecessary, overly melodramatic five minutes it ran.
To make matters worse, because American Violence mishandles every dramatic beat it attempts, the movie isn’t going to leave anyone thinking about or discussing the death penalty. All anyone will remember is Bruce Dern bitching about his sandwich like he somehow got stuck in a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond or some other sitcom where longtime married couples bicker back and forth. Fans of the New England Patriots will get a kick out of seeing Rob Gronkowski as a bodyguard, while everyone else will just wonder what the f*** he’s even doing in the movie. It’s like they wanted to cast John Cena, but seeing as even he is an actor above this film’s quality the studio had to settle on an NFL Tight End.
The only silver lining here is that due to the fact that American Violence quickly drops every intention of exploring its relevant themes and social commentary, there is room for a bunch of bloody violence, that while not very entertaining, is far more welcome than having to listen to the disastrous acting on display. Regardless, at 106 minutes the movie feels like it lasts an eternity as it goes through the motions of each and every predictable plot point. It’s a god-awful movie with no redeeming qualities. But, I will take a movie where Bruce Dern complains about every little thing while arguing with his wife, so someone give that the green light.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★