Film Review: Deadline

A case involving the murder of a black youth gets solved here, but absolutely nothing could help this numbingly awful, undoubtedly well-intentioned but who-cares-it’s-so-bad farrago.

Two decades have passed since the unsolved Alabama murder of African-American youth Wallace Sampson (Romonte Hamer), but Nashville Times reporter Matt Harper (Steve Talley) is bent on uncovering the truth. He must virtually stand alone, however, as he faces opposition from his publisher and mysterious death threats, besides a breakup with his girlfriend and his father’s cancer diagnosis.

Of all possible genres of film, is any more noxious—with its attendant self-righteousness—than a clumsily handled race-relations epic? Deadline definitely fits this category and, early on, when you hear the line “Closed cases are like obscure plants; solving an unsolved murder is like finding an unidentified plant, I can’t stop until I do,” you let out a heavy sigh, knowing just what you are in for. And, of course, there’s much more to come, like “The cross may be a symbol of the afterlife, but it’s still just a lynching tree.” Director Curt Hahn and screenwriter Mark Ethridge (who dutifully, clumsily brings up the mention of such as Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni to convey depth here) must shoulder equal blame for this obvious drek which strives to be The Help, but instead merely needs it, and direly.

Talley goes about his heavy business with an unintentionally risible seriousness befitting a cable knockoff of a lesser episode of “Law & Order: SVU.” As far as the rest of the cast goes, to list the stereotypes in yet one more white-people-solving-black-people’s-problems movie, starting with Romonte’s sad but stoic maid of a mother, Mary Pell (Jackie Welch), would be too exhausting. Suffice it to say that everyone and everything that happens is a staggering cliché, born of a hundred better films.

Unsurprisingly, the music is a major liability, with voices wailing mournfully on the soundtrack to evoke Wallace’s death and distracting, unlistenable songs with idiotically portentous lyrics. Oh yes, there’s a wild card: a ravaged-looking Eric Roberts as a seen-it-all newspaperman, who manages to bring at least a soupcon of mangy, authentically Southern life to this incompetent hash.