Fear, greed, and political intrigue is the name of the game for Bill Sagle (Eric Roberts, of the recently reviewed “radio week” flick Power 98), a philandering, narcissist Texas oilman who uses his wealth and power to control the political scene—and that arrogance means his machiavellian ethos knows no limits. And with him losing money with oil at $40 a barrel and his ever-increasing gambling debts (when we first meet Sagle, he’s on Learjet with a bunch of hookers on the way to Las Vegas), he hedges his bets with his nephew, Stuart Sagle (Gary Lee Mahmoud of TV’s Law and Order: SVU and Blue Bloods), into the governorship of Texas for a little ‘ol down home puppet regime.
When local mobster Jimmy Sloan, who’s in cahoots with Tony Cabrisi, who’s the brother of Stuart’s wife, sets up Stuart in a prostitution-blackmail plot, Bill Sagle hatches a new plan: groom his long-time employee, Tim Bayh (Anthony Ray Parker of Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners, the Wachowski’s The Matrix, and John Cena’s The Marine), an ex-Marine, a Silver Star Afghanistan war vet, and Harvard graduate as the first Black gubernatorial candidate of Texas. Yes, this Texas oilman is of the J.R Ewing variety and he will play the race card because, in his world, the end justifies the means. The first black candidate for governor? The contributions will roll in. And it’s all about skim. Always was.
Will Tim Bayh make history? Not if Bill Sagle’s “enemies” have a say in the matter. And Tim has his own skeletons from the Afghan war rattling in his closet. As Tim avoids assassination attempts and his family becomes targets of blackmail, kidnapping, and extortion schemes, he must decide: stay in the race and make history, or quit the race for the sake of his family? And will he use his ex-military training to scorch-earth those wanting to destroy him? His campaign manager did say that “politics is like war,” after all.
Does this all stretch credulity? Yep. But Jamie Foxx kicked ass as President Sawyer in White House Down, so why not Governor Bayh in Lone Star Deception?
As part of our aforementioned “Radio Week” (March 15 to 21), we reviewed MGM Studio’s 1972’s blaxploitation entry, Melinda. In that noirish tale, an L.A. jock’s life spirals out of control and he goes “scorched earth” on the mobsters who kidnapped his girlfriend—the same predictament suffered by Governor Bayh. If Lone Star Deception was made in 1973, you’d have a blaxploitation flick analogous to the political, double-crossing intrique of one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorites: Detroit 9000.
For those of us familiar with Eric Roberts’s mindboggling 570-plus journeyman actor oeuvre (A Husband for Christmas, A Talking Cat), we go into his films of late with the knowledge that his role will be a small one, and sometimes, a pivotal one. And that rest of the cast backing him are unknown, mostly amateur (local community) actors who, while they give it their all, offer strained performances, to say the least.
While this film is clearly Anthony Ray Parker’s well-deserved time to shine (he’s been in front of the camera since the mid-‘90s, so it’s nice to see his name on top of a marquee), there’s more than enough Eric Roberts (more so than in most of his previous films; I’ve watched Roberts films where he’s either in one scene or all of his scenes take place on one set) in the frames to satiate our fix for his always welcomed presence. And Parker, as well as Gary Lee Mahmoud (who’s actually in the film less than Roberts), each hold their own alongside Roberts. Another highlight on the acting front is the Robert Foxworth-reminding Brian Thornton (TV’s Walker, Texas Ranger, Friday Night Lights, Queen of the South) playing Parker’s war buddy, Mark. He has a pleasant, quite cool about him; I’d would have enjoyed more of him on screen.
According to the film’s against-the-odds production history, Lone Star Deception (its working title was The Candidate) took over two years to finish, which entailed six different shoots done by three directors and burnt through three producers, four writers, and two casting directors. And Roberts, ever the professional, stuck by the producers through it all, making himself always available. Roberts not only came back for one filming without compensation, but he returned to Houston (once more unto the breach, dear friends!) for the Worldfest Houston Film Festival where he accepted a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award. (Something that Tom Sizemore didn’t do for the Texas premiere of his own trouble-produced neo-noir, Zyzzyx Road.) And that’s why we love Eric Roberts: he’s loyal to the indie filmmaker and he always delivers on screen. (Don’t worry Tom, we dig you too: we reviewed several of your films at B&S About Movies.)
Now, when you have that much drama and personnel turnover on a film production, it usually means you’ll end up with a disjointed film lacking in consistency across all the disciplines. (Our recent review of 1968’s Terror in the Jungle serves as the best, uh, worst case example of that brand of filmmaking.)
Such is not the case with Lone Star Deception.
Director and co-screenwriter Don Okolo, along with writer Ed DeZevallos, know their Shakespeare; the bard, of course, was film noir before film noir, with his medieval noirs of anti-heroes and femme fatales rife with love and jealousy, betrayal and revenge (even racism, in the case of Othello).
As result, Lone Star Deception hits all the film noir cues—with Parker’s Tim Bayh reminding of William Holden’s Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd., Fred MacMurray’s pasty of Walter Neff in Double Indemity and John Garfield’s Frank Chambers in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Each are somewhat well-intentioned, yet flawed indivduals who, in a desire to make a better life, subject themselves to a tail-spinning world of shady characters rife with deception and double crosses. The Seven Deadly Sins in Sagle’s Divine Comedy are funny that way.
Are Okolo and DeZavallos on par with Orson Wells’s and Laurence Olivier’s Shakespearian productions of Macbeth and Hamlet? Is Parker on par with John Garfield? No. But this isn’t Tommy Wiseau’s The Room either. So drop the clichéd Ed Woodian critical smart asseries at the door, ye film bard.
The frames of their story concerned with the dangers of greed and the quest for power are clean; it’s competently shot and decently acted with enough suspense and action to hold your interest—enough that you’re willing to overlook the film’s awkward, rough patches in the cinematography, editing, and SFX departments (a quality that holds true to one of my favorite films: Flywheel by first-time Christian filmmaker Alex Kendrick). If Parker’s Tim Bayh gubernatorial hopeful was a black female, Lone Star Deception would play well (less the profanity, natch) as part of the Lifetime Network’s roster of damsel-in-distress pseudo-noirs.
The bottom line: You’ll be seeing more on screen from Parker, Mahmoud, and Thornton, and from behind the camera with Okolo and DeZevallos (perhaps one with the ubercool Tom Sizemore? Hint.) And that’s no deception.
You can learn more about Lone Star Deception at the film’s official website. The film, distributed by TriCoast Entertainment, has made the festival rounds (where it won awards), played in Texas theatres, and will soon be released on DVD and all the usual PPV and online streaming platforms.
Disclaimer: This movie was sent to us by its PR department. That has no bearing on our review.