Producers: Tracey E. Edmonds, Mark Burg and Brad Kaplan Director: Millicent Shelton Screenplay: Christopher J. Moore and David Loughery Cast: Queen Latifah, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Beau Bridges, Mychale Faith Lee, Shaun Dixon, Frances Lee McCain, Jesse Luken, Tabatha Shaun, Keith Jardin, Jasper Keen and Michael McNeil Distributor: Netflix
A road movie that starts out as a blandly familiar family drama and morphs into a violent thriller that grows more absurd by the mile, “End of the Road” is as generic as its title and just as uninspired.
Queen Latifah is Brenda Freeman, a recently widowed Los Angeles nurse whose finances were so devastated by her late husband’s cancer treatment that she can no longer pay the mortgage on her nice house. The only answer is to move to Houston where she and her two kids—teen Kelly (Mychale Faith Lee) and younger brother Cam (Shaun Dixon) will live with her mother. (Neither wants to leave L.A., of course.) They’ll all drive to Texas with Brenda’s brother Reggie (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), a flaky sort despite, as he keeps reminding us, holding down the responsible position of assistant manager at a Chick fil-A.
Things go wrong almost immediately as they cross into Arizona. They’re forced to detour off the highway by road construction, and at a gas station Kelly summarily dismisses the advances of a couple of sleazy rednecks (Jasper Keen and Michael McNeil) by flipping them off, which causes the two creeps to first try to run them off the road and then to block their way until Brenda is forced to make a humiliatingly racist apology.
But that’s only an appetizer of horrors. At a crummy motel the family is rousted by a commotion next door, including a gunshot. Rushing to help, they find a fellow named Ruck (Jesse Luken) dead, and we know why he’s been killed, having seen him steal a duffel bag full of cash he was given by a guy from a Mexican drug cartel for delivery to his boss, the mysterious Mr. Cross.
Brenda tells the cops all she knows before they send the family on their way, but when he arrives Captain Hammers (Beau Bridges), who says he’s been chasing Cross for years, wants to talk with her himself. When he reaches her on the phone, though, Brenda refuses to come back, and so he goes after them. Unfortunately, she’s also contacted by a mysterious voice demanding the return of his money. She’s understandably bewildered by this, but it’s soon revealed that Reggie stole the duffel bag the killer had been forced to leave behind in his haste to escape, thinking the cash the answer to their prayers.
It’s not, of course, and when Cam is kidnapped after the Freemans unwisely stop at one of those western theme towns, Brenda is determined to return the duffel bag. Unfortunately, her plan falls apart when the bag is taken by a greedy motel maid (Tabatha Shaun), whom Brenda tracks to the camp of a nasty skinhead (Keith Jardin) who’s loathe to give it up. By this time the clan has made contact with Hammers, who takes them to the isolated house he shares with his wife Val (Frances Lee McCain) for protection.
This latter portion of the picture is filled with car chases, hand-to-hand fights, captures, escapes and explosions. Luckily Brenda, as she pointedly tells us near the start, was a military brat, and so is adept in all manner of combat techniques, and can hold her own when faced with threats. There are some plot twists courtesy of writers Christopher J. Moore and David Loughery too, but they’re all predictable and flat-footed, and neither the cast nor director Millicent Shelton invest them with much energy, so they unspool in a pretty perfunctory way.
This is frankly material that would have seemed stale in a 1970s network movie of the week, and though Latifah, the two Bridges and the rest do what they can, it remains an increasingly risible and tedious concoction. (You might find yourself longing for a bit of “The Hills Have Eyes” or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to liven things up—though here it’s Arizona that’s the trouble spot, with the Lone Star state presented as a sort of sanctuary.) The technical package—production design (Lucia Seixas), costumes (Rahimeh Toba) and cinematography (Ed Wu)—is just okay, while Tirsa Hackshaw’s editing never rises above the prosaic, and toward the close is often positively messy. Craig DeLeon’s score is insistent but rather dull, and the inevitable pop numbers inserted into the mix add little.
Maybe the essential inanity of “End of the Road” won’t inordinately bother Netflix viewers who stumble onto it, but it’s really not worth the price of admission, even though that’s zero if you subscribe to the service.