All these years in show business, born into a showbiz family, with an Academy Award and a long career of his own, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. doesn’t know when to “drop the mike?”
Gooding makes his directing debut with “Bayou Caviar,” a slow moving thriller as complex as Great Granny’s Jambalaya recipe. And in spite of that pacing, some stereotypical casting and a need to contort and drag out the finale, it makes for messy movie-watching fun.
Gooding’s always had an athlete’s build with a recent turn as O.J. under his belt showing he’s a convincing ex-jock as well. As Rodney Jones, he’s a retired prize-fighter with a guilty conscience and a world that has shrunk to training anybody who comes along to the New Orleans gym where he got his start, with a side gig as a bouncer at at popular night club.
We get a taste of his compromised morality when he pays a deathbed visit to his former trainer (Wayne Dehart), whom he wronged. But it’s The Big Easy, kids. Everybody’s corrupt, everyone has a side hustle and who is anybody to judge anybody else?
Rodney’s side-hustle is what gets him into trouble. The mouthy, coked-up club owner (Sam Thakur, amusingly loathsome) pays “the champ” to escort to a meeting with his unhappy silent partner.
Partner is Russian, so you see problem, right? Yuri, given a whimsical “movie Russian” accent by Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss, shoots the big mouth right in front of Rodney. But, no worries, he’s a BOXING fan.
“First think a smart person should think about ees ‘How you DISPOSE of a newly dead body?'”
Yuri has a gator farm. Use your imagination.
Rodney is now beholden to Yuri, and his first “job” is getting dirt on the son-in-law of his aged accountant “counsel” (Ken Lerner). Both Shlomo and the son-in-law Isaac he is grooming to take over the dirty work are Orthodox Jews, genuflecting before their big paycheck, Yuri. They’re afraid of him, yet utterly corrupt and given to saying “Oy” and “We’ve been blessed” a tad too much for comfort. They have no scruples.
“Ours is not the first family to do Russian business. We have a good life!”
“Getting dirt” means Rodney has to lean on his lesbian photographer friend and gym client Nic (Famke Janssen). Her photo sessions can be seductions if she’s into her female subjects, but that on-the-make vibe has cost her clients. So she does porn on the side, and Rodney has in mind a sexually compromising blackmail video of Isaac (Gregg Bello) which will give Yuri leverage with him.
Conveniently, Isaac has renters behind on their payments, and an under-age daughter (Lia Marie Johnson) who has Isaac’s attention. All Rodney has to do is talk up this kid who keeps trying to get in the door of the club where he bounces, hear her Kardashian level ambitions (“Youtube reality show…jewelry line”) and give her his “The only ones who become famous are willing to do whatever it take” pitch.
Complicated enough? Everybody has an agenda and Gooding keeps five separate balls in the air with confidence. Having so many points of view means he shortchanges pretty much everybody, but the many second act complications are smartly plotted and only occasionally overly-reliant on coincidence.
“Bayou Caviar” — let’s not spoil what the title refers to — begins with a lovely montage of training and shadow boxing boxers, shots framed by shadows — has self-assured performances and manages to surprise here and there along the way.
It’s still a messy, film, with throw-away ideas introduced — Rodney “put his hands” on his ex, Nic is irate at the sexual harassment climate of “Trump’s America” because she doesn’t know where to draw the line, etc. — and forgotten.
And Gooding, who co-wrote this, doesn’t know where to draw the line either. He piles resolution after resolution into the finale, when leaving most of these questions unanswered after this or that character “gets what’s coming to them” would have made for a far better film.
Sometimes, not knowing what’s in this this “Bayou Caviar” they’re serving you is for the best.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA
Cast: Cuba Gooding Jr., Famke Janssen, Richard Dreyfuss , Gregg Bello, Katharine McPhee, Lia Marie Johnson
Running time: 1:51