It can sometimes seem that all the “let’s throw some money at” productions that Netflix streamed as feature films over the past year are just one interminable and awful movie. Maybe you figured that out on your own. Me? I had to restart my Netflix account for the holidays (about to shut this pipeline off for a few months again) and cram scores of them into a short period of time to have this epiphany.
Queen Latifah is the producer and star of “End of the Road,” and thus the figure Netflix “threw a lot of money at” in this case. She and her team — director Millicent Shelton, who has directed a lot of episodic TV, including one “Equalizer” outing — cooked up the most generic family-hunted-by-drug-lord odyssey ever.
Every piece of road, every location, every character in it — villain or heroine or just unpleasant bystander — is as generic and over-familiar as the plot of this dog. It’s barely 90 minutes long and feels “Blonde/Bardo” length.
It doesn’t sprint, run or even walk out of the gate. It crawls. And it crawls and crawls until we hit a couple of decent action beats on our way to a laugh-out-loud-bad finale.
I think co-star Ludacris had the right idea for all this. He’s barely awake, first scene to last. His line readings couldn’t have been sleepier unless we actually saw him stifle the yawn that plainly preceded every “Aaaaaannd ACTION” command from behind the camera. It’ was never going to be a very good movie. Ludacris gives away how bad it will get by his lack of commitment and somnambulant stoner energy.
Latifah plays a widow who has gone broke trying to keep the family intact after her husband’s death. We meet Brenda as she finishes packing the house and rousts her lovesick teen daughter (Mychala Lee) and grieving son (Shaun Dixon) up and into the car.
Her brother Reggie (Ludacris) is coming along for the three day drive to Houston. He has to be reminded “no drugs and no weed for the entire trip.” It’s like that.
Wouldn’t you know it, they’re dust-deep in Arizona when they have their first rednecks in a pickup encounter. That’s merely a prelude to the murder they overhear at the dive motel they stay in that night.
These scenes establish that Mom and Reggie understand the rural racism they’re driving through. But Mom is willing to “apologize” and walk away from white male provocations, something she learned from her late Army Col. father. Short-tempered Reggie never learned that lesson, although the weed has definitely mellowed him out, if impaired his decision making. We also hear how Dad taught her and Reggie how to hunt, because foreshadowing should always be this obvious.
That foreshadowing will come in handy when they find themselves hunted by the drug gang of Mr. Cross, “the boss” who had a hand in the motel room murder next door. They’re questioned by the police, and then hounded across country as this Cross gang tries to track down some missing drug money.
Beau Bridges plays an Arizona state police captain on their trail.
Nothing but nothing about this is surprising, but Latifah throws herself into every racist encounter Brenda faces, every desperate fight to “save my family” in this or that corner of the dusty middle of nowhere. She gives this lame story a faint feeling of “high stakes,” which every scene and shot of Ludacris strips away.
“End of the Road” was never going to amount to much, a generic thriller of the “Detour,” “Breakdown,” “U-Turn,” “Duel” school. Not every movie you sign up for is going to break the mold or build a better movie mousetrap. A good actress never lets us see disappointment and low expectations in her performance in such B-movies. But sometimes, a disinterested co-star does.
Rating: R (Some Strong Bloody Violence|Drug Use|Sexual Content|Language)
Cast: Queen Latifah, Mychala Lee, Ludacris, Shaun Dixon and Beau Bridges.
Credits: Directed by Millicent Shelton, scripted by Christopher J. Moore and David Loughery. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:29