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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 37.5%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 6.25%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Death & Texas
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by Brian McKay

"The Gridiron meets The Guillotine"
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2004 MILL VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL - Gosh, those folks in Texas sure do love their football. And they love a good execution, too, if the statistics are any indication (Texas currently holds a record of 16 executions in 2004 – more than twice that of any other state). But what happens when Pro Football and Capital Punishment collide? You get a smart, funny dark comedy from filmmaker Kevin DiNovis, one that also delivers a very somber message and a clever argument against the Death Penalty.

Former pro wide receiver “Barefoot” Bobby Briggs (Steve Harris) finds himself on death row after he becomes a reluctant accomplice in a liquor store armed robbery that was orchestrated by his childhood friend Ray Ray (Romano Malco). The very likable (but not too smart) Bobby pleads guilty to a shooting, even though there is evidence to suggest that it was actually Ray Ray who pulled the trigger, and is convicted of killing the store clerk. Although he is sentenced to die, nobody wants to see him go because . . . well, everyone loves Bobby. Even the guards in death row hero-worship him like they were prepubescent sports fans on opening game day.

Bobby’s case is championed by Marshall Ledger (Charles Durning), a veteran trial attorney who deals exclusively in appeals for death penalty cases and often works pro bono. He forms a special friendship with Bobby, and even teaches him how to play chess – by renaming all of the pieces after members of a football team. But when the Austin Steers lose their star receiver to a knee injury mere weeks before “Megabowl Sunday”, Ledger sees a golden opportunity to get Bobby’s death sentence commuted – by offering up his client’s services as a replacement. If he loses the game, the hard-ass governor is likely to let him fry anyway, but if he wins . . . well, who wants to execute a hero? Hell, even the mother of the slain store clerk admits “I think my boy would want Bobby to play, just so long as they flip the switch after the game.”

Shot on Digital Video in mockumentary style, DEATH & TEXAS proves to be one of the funniest and most compelling political statements in recent memory, substituting drama and satire for the heavy-handed manipulation that goes into most agenda-driven films these days. The script is sharp, alternately serving up laughs and moments of reflection, and the acting is top notch. The prolific Charles Durning gives one of the finest performances of his career, and supporting actors Steve Harris, Corbin Bernsen, and Mary Kay Place also deliver. Even Andy Richter, who I have always found to be woefully unfunny, gives a hilariously straight-laced performance as the District Attorney who tried Bobby’s case.

DiNovis succeeds admirably in delivering his anti-death penalty stance without ever becoming maudlin or manipulative. He allows the viewpoints of the other side to be expressed as well – even if he lampoons those who are expressing them. What the viewer is left with is a very funny film that hits with a thought-provoking climax and pulls very few punches in doing so. Of course, it’s easy to sympathize with the likable (and quite possibly innocent) Bobby, as opposed to a child-raping serial murderer who probably should be put down like a rabid Doberman. If you firmly believe in Capital Punishment, DEATH & TEXAS may not make you push yourself away from your table at Death Penalty buffet – but it should certainly give you food for thought.

Even better is the way in which DiNovis mocks the slavish devotion that Texans (in fact, Americans in general) have for their professional sports. Although the idea of letting a death row convict out of his cage to play in the “Megabowl” seems patently absurd at first glance, it becomes an increasingly more believable scenario when it’s revealed that the Governor (along with four of the richest oil barons in Texas), is co-owner of the Austin Steers – no doubt a veiled comment on our current President’s career history. Hell, it’s not too hard to imagine George W. doing something very similar when he was both state governor and co-owner of the Texas Rangers, if they’d lost their star Pitcher a few weeks before they were to play in the World Series.

DEATH & TEXAS admirably accomplishes what all good satire should – making you laugh while also giving you pause to question the way you look at important issues, especially one that is as volatile as capital punishment. Of course, I’m just some hippie liberal from California (which, ironically, is the only state to have churned out more Death Row inmates than Texas in U.S. history).

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originally posted: 10/21/04 12:05:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2004 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Slamdance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Slamdance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/10/04 Christine Satirical, intelligent and touchingly tragic. "Two Thumbs Up!" 5 stars
4/30/04 Joe Um. Wow. A lot there to think about. 5 stars
3/27/04 Chris Awesome! 5 stars
3/21/04 Bingo was his name-o Looked like a TV movie. Okay for the budget but... 2 stars
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