Logan is the sheriff of a sleepy little town with a dark past. Thirty years ago a girl was raped and in a regretful case of small town vigilante justice three brothers were unjustly accused of and murdered for the crime. Now they are back to exact their revenge on the perpetrators and their descendants and Logan must try to stop their thirst for vengeance.
Kurt Angle, the sports entertainment star with the trademark Crossface Chickenwing move, plays Sheriff Logan in his second feature film and first starring role. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw his name in the opening credits. Was I in for a pleasant surprise? After all, Duane Johnson has successfully jumped the chasm from sports entertainment to feature films, so why couldn’t Angle do the same? His street cred as an actor actually consists of a surprising number of made-for-television movie endeavors. As it turns out, he’s no Duane Johnson but there’s some potential there.
I get ahead of myself… first the movie. Movies in our favorite genre tend to play on a lot of variations on different themes. To find a new and refreshing story line is like stumbling upon a vein of gold in a region stripped bare of its resources. River of Darkness is not one of those movies. It chooses to revert to the staple “back from the dead to get revenge” theme, which, as re-envisioned themes go, is a good one. Unfortunately, a hokey script, bland acting, and comical prosthetics sink any chance this movie had of sailing down its own river.
Red flag number one to screen writers everywhere is to avoid the use of clichés. I suppose that when used cleverly and under the right circumstances they can be charming but those instances are few and far between. To me it illustrates a lack of creativity. River of Darkness contains such gems as, “Up sh*t creek without a paddle”, and, “Read ‘em and weep”. Out of context they seem harmless enough, but the first one was spoken by a dude in a boat, the second by a dude playing cards. At one point Sheriff Logan says while indicating the shotgun in his hand that he thought when he got the job he was going to, “walk quietly and carry a big stick.” At first I thought this was a playful and respectful nod to Duane Johnson’s role as a sheriff in “Walking Tall”, but considering the first two instances, I highly doubt it.
As far as the acting goes there were a couple of stand-out performances. Bingo O’Malley (“Love and Other Drugs”, “Wonder Boys”, “Creepshow”) as Virgil, the town’s historian (so to speak) and bait retailer, was by far the most believable performance, which makes sense as he is easily the most seasoned actor in the cast. Next we have Lindsay Carothers who plays the paranormal researcher, Autumn, and seems extremely comfortable even though this movie seems to be her first break. I hope to see more of her, and not in a lecherous kind of way. The performance that really surprised me was that of Ray Lloyd (Glacier of the WCW) as Clark, the take-charge community man who lost the sheriff election to Logan. He was one of the few cast members that was able to make something of a pretty drab script. Kurt Angle’s performance as a man unsure of his abilities as sheriff (kind of like Stallone’s performance in “Copland” but not as melancholy) was entirely dependent on who was on-screen with him at the time, proving Jimmy Stewart’s theory that acting is all about reacting. You give what you get; when Angle had one of the previously mentioned actors on-screen with him his performance was better, simple as that. He’ll take the next step when he can provide the same service for lesser actors.
Lastly, I have to mention the prosthetics. You’re working on a horror movie here, guys, how about something a little scary? The Jacob Brother Ghouls should have been something ghastly. Their bodies had been in a swamp for the past thirty years. Perhaps some decomposition or something would have been on the menu? But no, we’re given three dudes that look like a hillbillied version of the Blue Man Group or maybe the redneck siblings of Mystique. Pitiful.
River of Darkness is a movie that could have been so much more, but seemed to be content with being a showcase for professionals in the Sports Entertainment industry. There were some good performances and there was actually some really nice camera work at times, but overall skip this movie unless you can get someone else to pay for a rental or can’t get enough of your Wrestling stars.