Death in Texas. 2021
Written and Directed by Scott Windhauser
Starring Ronnie Gene Blevins, John Ashton, Bruce Dern, Lara Flynn Boyle, Stephen Lang, William Shockley, Craig Nigh, Cher Cosenza, and Sam Daly.
Just out of prison, Billy Walker returns to El Paso to find his mom dying of liver failure but low on the transplant list. However, the border offers other, darker options.
Death in Texas starts with a misguided and clunky voiceover of protagonist Billy Walker (Ronnie Gene Blevins, who if nothing else looks the physically imposing part for the role) waxing philosophical about the gray areas between black and white and how sometimes good people find themselves on a path of righteous evil. Now, the line between right and wrong is always a fascinating area of exploration, but it takes someone with more fidelity and thoughtfulness than writer/director Scott Windhauser (The Hurricane Heist, another of his offerings that could have benefited from embracing the absurdity of its concept) to give the story weight and these characters depth.
Billy is released from prison, not on account of good behavior, but because his mother Grace (Lara Flynn Boyle, one of the few veteran talents here that deserve better) has liver failure. She doesn’t have long to live, and apparently, that’s now enough to get someone out of jail for a violent crime. However, there is a chance that Grace could live beyond her two-month life expectancy window with a transplant. The downside is that she’s low on the list for one with no other legal alternatives.
Here is what makes it clear (among many other things) that Death in Texas is a lousy movie; when Billy decides to take matters into his own hands getting involved with criminal activity to raise enough money to purchase a liver on the black market, it’s not easy to get behind him even if the endgame is noble. He’s a towering man with unaddressed rage issues that would instead get wrapped up in more dangerous affairs than spend what time is left with his mother. Nevertheless, Billy tries to rob a nasty former drug dealer associate where he does come across money, but the added wrench of sex-trafficked women. Naturally, Billy does do the right thing and sets them free, setting up the mystery of why these girls are never seen again in the movie. The sex trafficking itself is mentioned again, merely as a crutch for certain characters to hate other characters.
Meanwhile, Grace has been admitted to a nearby hospital where, in what is sure to be one of the most eye-rolling subplots in a movie all year, she begins to fall for and flirt with a male nurse named John (Stephen Lang, showing off a sensitive side which is a reprieve from some of his more recent action roles). The repetitive flirting is awkward and embarrassing as they fall for each other fast and hard despite having no real reason to. There’s a scene where John opens up about his personal life and is bluntly honest about being in the middle of getting his life back on track. No one Grace has known in her life has ever shown this much vulnerability, so it’s enough for her to think he is the love of her life. It’s certainly not the toxic douchebag she’s dating during the early scenes, indicating a combination of terrible taste in men and a trashy town that’s probably never had one of the proverbial good ones.
As Billy works on the money situation, he frequents a bar filled with more degenerates while striking up a connection with the bartender Jennifer (Cher Cosenza). He is the only one that doesn’t see her as a sex object and is genuinely interested in her previous ambitions to be a teacher, so she takes a liking to him. With that said, his path of violence sets him on a collision course with a cartel runner played by Bruce Dern of all people. Like most of his late-career performances, he is chewing the scenery and the only entertaining thing about the movie, suggesting that with a little more self-awareness and schlock, there could have been some fun here.
There’s really not much else to say about Death in Texas other than that there’s a twist that genuinely does this movie in. It’s trying to give the situation and these characters layers, but Scott Windhauser plays it straight. He doesn’t seem to realize a better movie would write better characters instead of resorting to a lame and cliché twist. Then again, the whole film is filled with clichés, including the cringe-inducing ending. There is a sliver of suspense for a brief moment to be found in the climax, but even that quickly dissipates by characters being stupid. The last 30 minutes are somewhat tolerable, although it might as well take death to get there.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com