Review by Sean Boelman
There are plenty of iconic director and actor pairings, and while filmmaker John Swab and action star Frank Grillo are hardly what you would call “iconic,” their collaborations are at least consistent. Little Dixie is another entertaining B-movie from the duo, and while it’s riddled with flaws, it’s still a good time.
The movie follows a former special forces soldier who now facilitates a fragile truce between the Governor and the cartel as he finds himself in the crosshairs of an increasingly dangerous war when that truce is shattered. It’s a story that you’ve seen dozens of times before but is still entertaining, even in its familiarity.
For the most part, the film plays out in an extremely conventional manner. However, Swab’s approach is so gritty and stylized that viewers will be kept on the edge of their seats nonetheless. There are also occasional bursts of absolutely brutal violence — almost verging on grotesque — that will ensure viewers keep having a visceral reaction.
The main thing that the movie is missing is character development. Swab attempts to write off character development with a kidnapped kid storyline and a “secretive” black ops past. In reality, it’s just lazy screenwriting under the guise of trying to create a morally ambiguous character. It’s a problem when the antagonist feels more interesting than the hero (or, more accurately, anti-hero).
That being said, Grillo is absolutely firing on all cylinders here. While Grillo might not be a prestige actor, he does a damn good job of carrying pulpy B-movies like this. His ability to deliver one-liners in a way that feels entirely menacing and serious, as opposed to the witty delivery of most action stars, is pretty fantastic.
Eric Dane’s supporting role is fine, although he’s playing the same sleazy archetype that he seemingly plays in everything he stars in. Beau Knapp’s unhinged performance as the antagonist is shockingly good. He’s downright dubious in his role, with a turn that feels wonderfully and perfectly off-kilter.
And while he may not be the best writer, Swab is one hell of an action director. His command over spatial geography in an action sequence is extremely strong. He knows how to take the audience through a scene and make them feel every single punch or gunshot. Even when the script lacks suspense, Swab’s atmosphere picks up the slack.
Little Dixie is the type of guilty pleasure B-movie that doesn’t have much substance but is entertaining to watch nonetheless. All of these movies made by Swab and starring Grillo are starting to feel the same, but hey, if they keep making ‘em, I’ll keep watching ‘em.
Little Dixie is now in theaters and on VOD.