Death & Texas

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 01/26/04 19:35:27

"Can a black man earn a death row pardon in Texas? Depends..."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

If you're going to use a movie to offer some insight into the long-debated issue of capital punishment, you'd be well advised to do so with a fresh approach, plus a healthy dose of humor probably wouldn't be a bad thing to toss into the equation. Newcomer Kevin DiNovis has done both quite effectively, and the result is a 'hot-button' comedy that focuses on 'enlightenment via entertainment'.

Right off the bat, hats off to DiNovis and his producers for corraling such a stellar cast for such a small and offbeat production. If I told you that Death & Texas offers one of the finest performances of Charles Durning's expansive film career, would that be enough of a push for you to see it? How about the fantastic performance by Steve Harris (Minority Report, The Skulls) as a former football superstar presently incarcerated for murder? Would that do it?

The main conceit is an outlandish one, though one that's presented and played with with a remarkable degree of inventiveness and wit: "Barefoot" Bobby Briggs was one of the world's most explosive and admired athletes, but after participating (perhaps unwittingly) in a robbery gone terribly wrong he ends up on Death Row. In the Texas prison system. (Not a system particularly known for its leniency where the electric chair is concerned.)

But through some duplicitous jaw-yappin' and the exploitation of some loopholes of legality, a handful of do-gooders aim to spring Bobby Briggs...if only so he can play in the World Championship...for the Texas squad. Obviously.

The sheer and blatant hypocrisy of this scheme is not overlooked by DiNovis' clever screenplay, and his film is presented in a faux-documentary style that gives the satire considerably more bite than would a traditional narrative. Make this film a 'fiction' and it could come out preachy and obvious; deliver the fare in a style that implies authenticity and the humor hits home with remarkable accuracy.

Regardless of your own position regarding the death penalty, there's no denying that DiNovis gets his points across through a crafty and insightful screenplay and not through long, languid speeches full of aimless blather. You know the movies I'm talking about.

The flick has something to say, and it does so in quick and winning fashion. It's topical, ballsy and quite funny to boot. Be it as festival fare or sometime next year on DVD, this one's easily worth a spin.

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