Film Review: Two Step

A naïve college student comes to live with his grandmother, only to find himself embroiled in a deadly small-town crime feud in this sharp little slice of Southwestern noir filmmaking.
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Orphaned by a car crash that killed both his parents in one blow, disaffected Texas boy James (Skyy Moore) is the original hard-luck kid: basically decent but dangerously naïve and in no way equipped to navigate the dirty waters of his grandparents' Lone Star State hometown.

On the face of it, he's just fallen into a bed of clover: His grandma has left him $85,000 and change plus a modest house that's paid off free and clear, the better to let him sit back and figure out what to do with his life. But luck that good has to come with a catch, and it does.

While James is blundering his way though young adulthood, another young man, Webb (James Landry Hébert), is doing the same...except that he's fresh out of jail, where he spent his time phone-scamming lonely old folks—including James' grandma—into sending him funds by way of an account set up by his girlfriend Amy (Ashley Spillers), who got the hell out of Dodge first chance she could and left Webb dangerously indebted to Duane (Jason Douglas), a deceptively ordinary-seeming guy who has his finger in just about every crooked pie in town.  

James winds up forging an unlikely friendship with his grandma's neighbor Dot (Beth Broderick), a middle-aged former ballerina-turned-dance teacher whose life is one long battle against local jerks who think any lady who once pranced around in a tutu must be "just naturally horizontal," which she is not. The question is whether she's fond enough of newcomer James to risk stirring up a hornets' nest worth of the kind of trouble that leaves people dead.

Writer-director Alex R. Johnson's Two Step is a classic stuck-in-the-cable-pipeline picture, a low-key thriller that once could have carved itself a small niche in independent art houses and rustled up the sort of solid reviews that offered a foothold in the theatrical marketplace. Which is a real shame, because it's sharply written, unusually well-acted and well worth a look that it will be lucky to get, and not just because Moore's James is an appealing protagonist, a lost boy who shows every sign of being able to buck up and play the sad hand life has dealt him.

What makes the film hum is that Hébert's Webb, for all his character's vicious and undeniable flaws, is just as lost and floundering as the more conventionally sympathetic James. Webb is a bad ’un, no two ways about it, but it's hard not to wish he'd straighten up and fly right before it's too late. That's a tough piece of characterization to pull off, but first-time feature writer-director Alex R. Johnson draws the right stuff out of Hébert without ever making Moore's sweet James look like a wuss.

Johnson is a talent to watch, and fingers crossed that there's room for him in the kind of long-form cable programming that gives character-driven writer-directors room to strut their stuff before making the leap to big-budget feature films.   

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