One of the toughest decisions facing anybody involved with a movie is recognizing “Well, Hell, somebody beat us to it” and knowing when to throw in the towel.
The Keke Palmer enslaved woman’s revenge thriller “Alice” went into production as Lionsgate’s Janelle Monáe vehicle, “Antebellum” announced its release date back in 2020. That’s a lot like plowing on with “Infamous” when the fanfare over “Capote” is just starting to build, and the writing’s on the wall.
As in, “Well, they’re not the same movie, but they’re damned close. Who’s going to want to see that twice?”
“Alice” opens, like “Antebellum,” with a vicious depiction of enslaved life on a Georgia plantation. Mister Paul (Jonny Lee Miller) rides his “domestics” hard, and as a lay preacher, inveighs upon them to “be fruitful,” multiply and increase the size of his enslaved “property” holdings — with mates of his choosing, of course.
House “domestic” Alice (Palmer, the “Akela and the Bee” star who reinvented herself with “Pimp”) has been secretly married to Joseph (Gaius Charles) when Mister Paul, a brute too-quick with the whip, informs Joseph that he’s to be married/mated with a slave from a nearby plantation. That’s what triggers one last furious effort to fight their way free by both Alice and Joseph.
Only Alice is able to gouge her way out, sprint through the Spanish Moss-covered forest and…almost get run over by a tractor trailer on a Georgia Interstate in 1973.
Sure, we had a clue, with her picking up a copy of her mistress’s Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and holding it up to a mirror to compare herself to the heroine depicted on the cover. That novel was first published, in Russia, in 1878. Every American, save for the stupidest and the political cult who still embrace him, can manage that historical math.
Alice finds herself in future shock, with Diana Ross on the radio and on the cover of the “Rolling Stone” and Pam Grier at her “Coffey” “Jet” magazine cover icon action icon peak. With some understanding from the understandably confused truck driver (Common), Alice gives herself a rushed lesson in 100 years of civil rights, a Pam Grier/Angela Davis afro and the resolve to track down anybody from that plantation (Alicia Witt) who needs confronting and can give her some answers.
Because like “Django Unchained,” she’s hellbent on going back and having her revenge.
The best one can say about the heartbreaking opening act is that the Antebellum South might be where the phrase “The cruelty is the point” might have originated.
The best one can say about Alice’s blaxploitation era revenge fantasy is that it doesn’t play.
And despite Palmer’s investment in the title role, there’s little more to add about “Alice” except that it shows up two years too late, even less logical, and a lot of budget dollars short of “Antebellum.
Rating: Rated R for some violence and language
Cast: Keke Palmer, Common, Jonny Lee Miller, Gaius Charles and Alicia Witt.
Credits” Scripted and directed by Krystin Ver Linden. A Roadside Attractions release.
Running time: 1:40