End of the Road Movie Review: This poorly conceived film overshadows Latifah's performance
Execution and writing ensure that this film gets slotted into the category of trashy highway crime fare
The sad part about End of the Road is that Queen Latifah, Lucacris, Mychala Lee and Shaun Dixon act rather decently in a subpar and predictable film. It starts off fairly well and continues to engage for the initial twenty-five minutes, but the sticky road trip takes a nosedive with its first wrong turn, signalling the premature unravelling of End of the Road. You can’t mask bad writing with believable acting performances, unfortunately.
Director: Millicent Shelton
Cast: Queen Latifah, Ludacris, Mychala Faith Lee, Shaun Dixon, Beau Bridges
Streaming On: Netflix
The premise of the film, though bordering on cliché, has us on board with the hopes and dreams of the black American family at the centre of the narrative. Brenda (Queen Latifah), an ER nurse, is forced to give up her home in LA and move to the Deep South. She may not wish to uproot her children, Kelly (Mychala Lee) and Cam (Shaun Dixon), but the financial burden from her late husband’s prolonged illness has taken its toll, leaving her no choice in the matter. Her not-so-successful brother, Reggie (Ludacris), joins them for support. He isn’t rolling in riches but his heart has all the room for his sister, niece and nephew. They make fun of him for trying too hard to play the cool, hip uncle. And it’s precisely this relatability that warms you to these characters.
At first glance, they don’t strike you as close-knit. But the banter, the inside jokes, the fights and the deep familiarity just go to prove how united they are. What End of the Road also makes you feel is empathy; the family has fallen on hard times and is looking to catch a break in an honest, respectable way. They haven’t deserved half of what life has thrown at them (death of a loved one, foreclosure on their house, etc.), yet they continue to fight the good fight. This sentiment is embodied by Queen Latifah’s character throughout the story, making her the undeclared head and moral centre of this household…the person everyone turns to when the chips are down.
Up until their first brush with racism on the freeway, the film does okay. A detour of 85 miles takes them into a seedy, redneck town. You can broadly guess what’s coming up next, which is fine, so long as the treatment of the subject matter is good and the scenes are not too predictable. The chase sequence from the gas station, after Kelly flips off two lewd, young white men, is well conceived and adequately unnerving. Brenda’s maturity comes to the fore when she chastises her daughter for showing poor judgement (“Do you know the kind of place we’re in?”) and holds her brother back from confronting the redneck duo. The following scene, in which she steps out to address the men bothering them with their obstructing truck, marks an intense moment. She bites her lip, putting her personal safety and dignity on the line, and asks what it would take for them to move their vehicle. “An apology would be nice,” comes the response (for supposedly endangering their lives). They’re not happy with her matter-of-fact “I apologise” and tell her to say it like she means it. When she goes over the words, a caveat is added, forcing her to say, “I apologise for endangering your white lives.” This charged back-and-forth is undoubtedly the best part of the film. It represents the extent to which Brenda will go for the sake of her family and speaks to the still-rampant racism prevalent in the American south (especially within its small towns). While such a scene is expected (given the premise), it’s the treatment (dialogue, acting and overall menace) that comes up trumps.
This fine, unsettling juncture marks the film’s end of the road. From this point on, prepare yourself for one predictable cliché after another. Caricatures for evil characters and moments of conflict that almost turn your stomach, the narrative wastes no time in destroying all that it may have built so far. It is understandable to have some predictability in a film set in a small, redneck town, but it is the execution and writing that ensure it gets slotted into the category of trashy highway crime fare. Racist truckers, corrupt sheriffs, seedy bars and drug cartels - it’s got it all…splashed everywhere like a cheap, Jackson Pollock knockoff. While Latifah & Co. attempt to hold their own despite the woeful writing, it is Beau Bridges’ character that pushes the film deeper into the ground. Poorly conceived and one-dimensional from the word go, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out he’s a bad apple. So much for surprises!
Even if End of the Road had added to the ‘unity and strength of family’ angle with a half-decent genre script, it would have been enough. The end result only makes you feel bad for Latifah, Ludacris, Lee and Dixon. Their acting prowess could have been put to good use elsewhere.