One Day as a Lion should be a better movie than what’s presented, but it’s bogged down trying to be a weak impression of a Coen Brothers or Tarantino film.
Jackie Powers (Scott Caan, Hawaii 5-0) has seen his life spiral after refusing to throw a fight. When his son, Billy (Dash Melrose), facing the likelihood of going down his own career criminal path, Jackie will do whatever it takes to get him back on track.
Even if it means reluctantly being a hitman to take out Walter Boggs, a debtor (J.K. Simmons. Spider-Man: No Way Home) who owes his boss, Pauly (Frank Grillo, Operation Seawolf) a ton of cash.
As a hitman, Jackie makes for a great boxer. Walter escapes and a desperate Jackie kidnaps waitress Lola (Marianne Rendón, Imposters) since she was an eyewitness. Lola was in need of some excitement and after learning of Jackie’s pathetic plight, offers to help him get a high-priced attorney to get his son out of prison.
Caan, who wrote the script, peppers the film with eclectic and quirky characters. The problem with a film full of quirky characters is no one comes off that interesting. Instead, they’re more of a writing crutch as a hack for meaningful character development.
Caan doesn’t seem to trust himself enough as the characters resonate much stronger when they’re just being normal. Too often they’re making weird choices in service of the script, which would benefit from less goofy behavior more consistently.
Regardless of how bored she is, Jackie doesn’t seem like a viable option for excitement for Lola. Yes, she initially sees him as a way of getting some of her inheritance early from her dying mother (Virginia Madsen, Candyman), but he’s also living the kind of life that could get people around him killed.
Director John Swab also seems a bit confused as to the tone he wants as it shifts dramatically from scene to scene. It’s hard to fully buy-in to the threat of danger even when guys are getting shot through the head thanks to the more slapstick approach to shootouts.
Swab takes the “cool” factor out of gun fights, making them more haphazard and lucky encounters. That’s probably more of how shootouts play out in real life, yet it comes off too comedic here.
In those rare moments when the characters are treated like people instead of “quirky personalities colliding” the film is solid teasing what could have been if this approach carried throughout.
That’s particularly true in the scenes with Jackie and Lola as they start scheming together. Caan and Rendón have enough chemistry that despite the illogical manner their characters come together I was rooting for Jackie and Lola to ride off happily into the sunset.
Rendón is a performer who needs a starring vehicle based around her. She’s a tremendous actress and is always one of the best parts of any project she’s involved in. She’s the not so quiet glue that keeps the film together.
Grillo and Simmons feel like they’re part of an entirely different movie, one Caan might have been better following in another film and keeping the focus on Jackie and Lola’s exploits.
Writing a film overflowing with memorable characters isn’t easy. Caan has the basic screenwriting chops down and if he’d just limited the quirkiness to Jackie, the film would have been far more enjoyable.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Photo Credit: Lionsgate