Producers: Jeremy M. Rosen, John Swab and Robert Ogden Barnum Director: John Swab Screenplay: John Swab Cast: Josh Harnett, Frank Grillo, Melissa Leo, Sofia Hublitz, William Forsythe, Deborah Ann Woll, George Carroll, Mark Boone Junior, Beau Knapp, Nicholas Cirillo, Ben Hall and Bruce Davis Distributor: Saban Films
A tale of a crime family on the ropes in Tulsa doesn’t have the grandeur of one set in New York or even Newark, and their troubles professional and domestic carry little dramatic heft in John Swab’s limp little would-be thriller.
“Ida Red”—the title has little to do with Bob Wills’ song—begins with the heist of boxes of pharmaceuticals from semis by young Wyatt Walker (Josh Hartnett), whose cover is as owner of a garage, and his hot-tempered uncle Dallas (Frank Grillo). In the course of the messy operation, in which the Walkers impersonate DEA officers, one truck driver is killed and a second sent wounded into a local ICU, while the thieves’ yokel wingman Jay (Beau Knapp) runs off in disarray.
Wyatt, who appears congenitally depressed, is even more so when he visits his mother Ida (Melissa Leo) in prison. She’s been there for years since she was captured after a botched bank robbery in which her husband was killed, but now she’s terminally ill and wants to breathe the air of freedom before she dies. That leads Wayne to concoct a scheme in which he and Dallas will kidnap Stewart Prince (Ben Hall), the head of the parole board, and bribe him into agreeing to her release.
Meanwhile Dallas, always ready to kill, tries to eliminate the loose ends left dangling from the highway heist, since an FBI agent Lawrence Twilley (William Forsythe) has come to town to investigate it and teamed up with straight-arrow local plainclothes cop Brodie Collier (George Carroll). With absurd ease Dallas suffocates the truck driver, but he lets Jay get away, though he whacks his brother and girlfriend just for fun. Twilley and Collier capture Jay and induce him to finger the Walkers, but stupidly give their captive the opportunity to commit suicide in the interrogation room.
Now out of immediate danger, Wyatt and Dallas take up Ida’s suggestion to partner up with crooked pastor Shug (Bruce Davis) on a job that could bring in millions in cash: ripping off oilmen coming into a little airport from a trip to the Middle East with bags of money. Given their track record on the truck heist, one cannot expect things will go well; nor does their knucklehead plan to free Ida seem likely to succeed, even with the know-how of the family’s good-old-boy lawyer Drummond (Mark Boon Junior).
Things on the home front are also problematic. Wyatt attempts to reason with his rebellious fifteen-year old niece Darla (Sofia Hublitz), who’s getting into all sorts of trouble at school and has met a boy (Nicholas Cirillo) who could be bad news. He has a hard time dealing with the girl’s mother Jeanie (Deborah Ann Woll), who’s cut off all contact with Ida for reasons that will be revealed in time, and who just happens to be married to Collier the cop.
It doesn’t take a great deal of prescience to predict that things are not going to turn out rosily for the Walkers, though the future for one of them, thanks to some implausible twists, is portrayed as promising despite actions that could have taken a very dark twist. And though Ida does get to enjoy some brief moments on the outside, both Dallas and Wyatt wind up in dire circumstances. Their heist of the oilmen’s illegal cash comes off well enough—though after the script makes a special point of emphasizing that the flight comes in at 3am to avoid scrutiny, Swab shoot the sequence in daylight on what appears to be a nice sunny day—but their escape plan goes awry, resulting in a shoot-out with the cops on a downtown Tulsa street that’s oddly devoid of cars or pedestrians. And Wyatt takes the time to deal with someone who’s betrayed them before attempting to flee the scene.
Swab and cinematographer Matt Clegg indulge in occasional flourishes—like a dancing hula doll in the foreground of a robbery at a burger join, or the shadows of crucifixes dominating the imagery at Shug’s church, or the scene of Drummond grabbing a dish off an electric train that travels around the counter of what has to be Tulsa’s Sushi Train Restaurant (local color, anyone?)—but generally the visuals are grubbily plain (as are Katy Martin’s art direction and Matt Clegg’s cinematography, save for some clumsily-executed artiness in the opening heist sequence). Neither John David Allen’s editing nor David Sardy’s score adds much in the way of excitement.
As our haggard antihero, Hartnett delivers the necessary sense of nourish world-weariness, while Grillo gives his usual over-the-top performance, spouting out hackneyed lines like “I’m too old for this shit!” with gusto. Leo puts in her play for awards consideration with a histrionic delivery of a monologue at Ida’s parole hearing, while Forsythe manages to exhibit virtually every cliché of the seen-everything lawman stereotype, relying on popping a stick of chewing gum into his mouth periodically to simulate “characterization.” The rest of the cast is okay, with Boone and Davis obviously relishing their opportunities to scenery-chew, but Hublitz is a mite wan as the girl all the Walkers care deeply about.
There’s nothing terribly wrong with “Ida Red.” It should satisfy those looking for a couple of house of low-rent, unexceptional crime melodrama. But except for its unusual locale, it offers nothing that other stabs at neo-noir thrillers haven’t done better.