Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore, Edie Falco, Ron Eldard, William Forsythe
Director: Joe Roth
As a movie director, Joe Roth is a great producer, and even that is stretching the truth a bit, to be perfectly honest; recent movies he’s produced include “Daddy Day Care,” “Hollywood Homicide,” and “Tears of the Sun.” His directorial credits – which, let’s not kid anyone, are debits – are an Enron-esque list of money hemorrhaging disasters, including “American Sweethearts,” “Christmas with the Kranks,” and even “Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise.” His latest money pit is “Freedomland,” a crime thriller that pretends to be both a child abduction mystery and biting commentary on race relations, but it spends too much time flip flopping between the two, and oftentimes is neither.
Samuel L. Jackson (only six months until “Snakes on a Plane,” kids) stars as Detective Lorenzo Council, an ambassador of sorts to a housing project in Dempsey, New Jersey that comes under fire when Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore) claims that she was carjacked there by a black man, while her son was sleeping in the car’s back seat. The police order a lockdown on the project until they find the boy, which does not please the residents one bit since they’ve not once seen that kind of police presence when one of their own comes up missing or dead. Council receives a helping hand in the form of Karen Collucci (Edie Falco), who heads a volunteer group dedicated to finding missing children. The more time that Council spends with Brenda, the more he realizes that, as Christopher Walken said in “True Romance,” she’s saying nothing but telling him everything. To make matters worse, Council has to deal with Brenda’s brother Danny (Ron Eldard), a cop in nearby all-white Gannon who’s just itching to kick some black butt.
I have not read Richard Price’s best-selling novel on which this movie is based (Price wrote the screenplay as well), but I know that a reporter character was cut out of the story line for the movie, and with that reporter, presumably, went everything else engaging about the book. There’s no story here, just a couple of incomplete arcs that occasionally intersect when it’s convenient for them to do so. The mystery isn’t much of a mystery, and the racial tension is by-the-numbers fluff. What on earth held this book together long enough to propel it to best-seller status?
Jackson isn’t exactly on autopilot here, but he’s not bringing his ‘A’ game either. Perhaps he knows it’s not worth his effort…or that he’s reading the body language of costar Moore, a typically reliable actress who floats through half of this movie like she’s heavily sedated. You could argue that she’s just that good at acting nuts, but the problem is that you never really know if she’s actually nuts or just a big faker. On paper, that would normally be a good thing, but trust me, it’s not. Falco is the one who makes the most of it with a powerful one-take scene where she both consoles and slyly interrogates Brenda. The film’s editor, meanwhile, should be slapped silly for setting up a scene where Danny finds out a key piece of information on the crime, runs out to exact revenge…and absolutely nothing about that thread is followed up. The movie ends 10 minutes later! Did they think we’d forget?
With any luck, a movie will show up soon that actually means something to someone. Anyone who gleans any insight or perspective out of “Freedomland,” frankly, hasn’t seen enough movies. On the other hand, I, to paraphrase David Lander in “A League of Their Own” (you’ll notice that I quoted two movies from the early ‘90s, something that no one will do 10 years from now with this movie), can say that I have seen enough of these nothing films to know that I have seen too many. Stop the madness, Hollywood. Please.