2 stars out of 4
Filmmaker John Sayles has made 16 movies over the last three decades and not one of them could be referred to as below average. A few of them, "Eight Men Out" and "Lone Star," for instance are even classics. Now, we get "Honeydripper," which is one of Sayles' weakest efforts, but nonetheless has something to offer.
Sayles' strong suit has always been plot and character development, two keys that are sorely lacking in "Honeydripper." Set in 1950s Alabama, the story is, by Sayles standards, relatively modest and simple. Pianist Tyrone's (Danny Glover) juke joint is about to go under. It's a place located far enough in the sticks to keep away any high-profile performers, and the patrons have grown tired of the same local Delta Blues acts.
Hounded by creditors, opportunistic competitors and a slightly bigoted sheriff (Stacy Keach), Tyrone needs one big blowout weekend to make him flush and get him back on his feet. He catches a break when he lands a play date commitment from Guitar Sam, a rocker with a new hit single and an act everybody is dying to see.
Lacking the palpable tension of a typical Sayles film, "Honeydripper" lays out its plot points in the first 30 minutes and spends the next hour or so rehashing them. The only interesting subplots are the wavering relationship between Virgil and his wife (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and the burgeoning romance involving his daughter (Yaya DaCosta) and an aspiring performer (Gary Clark Jr.). The movie gets a welcome jolt in the last 15 minutes, but still lacks Sayles' usual punch and irony.
On the upside, the music is great and the one original song, "China Doll," penned by Sayles and Mason Daring and performed by Clark, is as good as the classic rock-and-blues standards included on the soundtrack.
If this were the first effort from a promising new filmmaker, it would be regarded as a pleasant winter surprise. But coming from a master storyteller like Sayles, it feels underachieving and lackluster. Unless you're a Sayles devotee, wait for the DVD and check out the soundtrack instead. (Emerging Pictures)