End of the Road, 2022.
Directed by Millicent Shelton.
Starring Queen Latifah, Chris Bridges, Beau Bridges, Mychala Lee, Keith Jardine, Jesse Luken, Frances Lee McCain, Tabatha Shaun, Aaron Valentine, Shaun Dixon, Efrain Villa, and Amie MacKenzie.
Recently widowed mom Brenda fights to protect her family during a harrowing road trip when a murder and a missing bag of cash plunge them into danger.
There is a point in director Millicent Shelton’s (who has mostly worked on TV shows up until this point) End of the Road where teenage daughter Kelly (Mychala Lee) remarks to her uncle Reggie (musician Ludacris, only credited as Chris Bridges here) that lately, it feels like life is relentlessly taking turns for worse. She’s not wrong; screenwriter David Loughery (with Christopher J. Moore attached to the original version of this script) seems determined to toss as many obstacles as humanly possible into the path of the Freeman family, whether the story makes sense or not.
End of the Road might have worked if its tone was less serious and more willing to embrace the plot’s absurdities from the beginning. This is an action-thriller (and sometimes a comedy, although possibly not by design) that eventually jumps more sharks than Evil Knievel, which is fine, except the journey there is far too fixated on clunky dramatic dialogue involving a distant family grieving the loss of their father/brother-in-law from cancer, attempting to start a new life moving to Arizona.
Brenda (Queen Latifah in what starts as her second dramatic role of the year, having recently impressed alongside Adam Sandler in Hustle, before spinning into family protector action heroics) is now in debt after spending a fortune on her now deceased husband’s chemotherapy. She is taking her two children and screwup brother to Arizona, although the drive has plenty of chaotic surprises in store.
Through a chain of convenient events (to the point of insultingly stupid writing), the Freeman family finds themselves caught in the middle of a drug lord and his botched attempt at recovering hefty cash. Gunshots erupt in the motel room adjacent to theirs, where Brenda (who just so happens to be a nurse) tries to keep the man alive (unaware that he is a thief) even though he has been shot in the neck. It’s a noble effort but to no avail.
It also turns out that Reggie found the stolen money that the killer didn’t have time to search for and took it upon himself to snatch it and place it in the back of the family vehicle. Brenda has her ways of figuring out that Reggie is being secretive and not telling her something, eventually finding out about the money and justifiably becoming freaked out considering a man just called (using a distorted manipulated voice) threatening her family if she doesn’t return the money. There’s also an Arizona state trooper (Beau Bridges) trying to chase the family down to protect them, aware that this drove this career criminal will stop at nothing to harm them.
The characters here are astonishingly dumb, and that’s putting it nicely. After a back-and-forth argument about whether or not they should return the money or take their chances defending themselves. Brenda wins the debate and chooses to leave the money in a different motel, subsequently dialing the phone number and explaining where the money is sitting. Naturally, this is not good enough for the drug kingpin as the family can still identify his voice from the murder. Bafflingly, they decide to visit a western-themed amusement park during this, where shit really hits the fan as Brenda’s youngest son Cam (Shaun Dixon) is kidnapped.
After some more stilted dialogue, a rescue plan is put into motion as the family also looks to work with the Arizona state troopers. Along the way, Brenda encounters many proud racists (there’s an arc here that she needs to stand up for herself against this horrific white supremacy, which does come to fruition with thematic juxtaposition), at one point beating the crap out of several white supremacists using anything in her vicinity as a weapon (including firing a shotgun).
When End of the Road gives up trying to be a mushy drama about loss, a dysfunctional family trying to reconnect, and the ethics of taking this blood money to start a new life, it swerves into a much-needed dose of demented insanity that is more fitting alongside the narrative’s ridiculousness and predictability. There are still several blindingly moronic character decisions and an abandonment of all logic (Ludacris can’t kick down a door, but someone else I won’t spoil hilariously can), but some trashy and bonkers joy within.
Queen Latifah going out on a vengeful, defensive rampage and murdering racists to save her family is quality entertainment and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges getting into a knife fight with a psychotic elderly woman is fun. Unfortunately, it takes until the end of the road to get on the movie’s wavelength.
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.com8