Greetings again from the darkness. Part of the fun that goes with watching a filmmaker’s feature film debut is the hope and optimism that precedes the viewing. At a minimum, we expect to see something original – something … anything … that inspired this person to overcome the many obstacles to getting a first film produced and distributed. Unfortunately, the opposite is true for the first feature from writer/director Joshua J Smith. The material is a mixture of films and characters we have seen too many times before.
Charlie Stillman is a New Jersey boy who dreams of following in his deceased father’s country and western footsteps in Nashville. Armed with a guitar, his dad’s notebook, and nary a clue, Charlie heads south. Rather than open a door, his father’s legacy slams it shut in Charlie’s face. Circumstances are such that he agrees to fly to Seattle and drive honky tonk legend Buckshot Thomas cross-country for his farewell performance in Nashville.
What follows is a typical road trip movie taking place in a battered RV, with a crusty old curmudgeon and a kid who thinks “bro country” music is his ticket to paradise. To no one’s surprise, the generational gap closes quickly as Buckshot offers up life lessons designed to create authentic songwriting tips for Charlie. In exchange, Buckshot makes some unscheduled personal stops along the way – saying goodbye to the past, with sequence involving a drug dealer, gun play, a guitar-whisperer, and gallons of booze.
A half-baked love story is little more than a blip; although there is a quite touching scene in a cemetery, as Buckshot pays his final respects to family, and we learn the story behind his first hit song “Darlin’ Eyes”. And that’s really what this movie has to offer: Tim DeZarn stars as Buckshot, and his performance makes the character more interesting than the script would have us believe. You’ll surely recognize Mr. DeZarn from many roles over the years in TV and movies, but I don’t recall his taking such a strong lead.
Frank Collison plays the guitar mystic and old friend to Buckshot, while Allan Wasserman is the blustery club owner, and Emily Davenport the fringe love interest. Conor Murphy seems to lack the presence to rescue such a poorly written character, but the biggest disappointment comes from the missed opportunity by filmmaker Smith. It’s prime time for a statement on the devolution of true “outlaw” music and musicians into the mainstream sludge that passes as country music these days. Instead of playing it safely in the middle of the lane, a true outlaw movie with guts could have labeled Mr. Smith as an exciting and daring new filmmaker. No wonder Buckshot carries that smoke wagon.