Little Dixie

Little Dixie utilizes the most annoying cliché in modern action movies, the hero who is “ex-Special Forces.” What this means is that he will never miss a shot, can sneak up on enemies who should logically see/hear him coming, and be able to emerge victorious even when up against multiple combatants simultaneously. In other words, he's superhuman. I groan every time a film pulls this trope out. This one is not as bad as many of them. It's more mediocre than anything, and the use of the concept is indicative of a pervasive lack of creativity.

Frank Grillo stars as Doc, the ex-Special Forces operative who finds himself in the exact kind of predicament cinematic ex-Special Forces operatives often find themselves in. He helped broker a deal between an old friend, Governor Richard Jeffs (Eric Dane), and Mexican drug cartel leader Lalo Prado (Maurice Compte). The terms are that the politician will generally go light on prosecution in exchange for payment. But Jeffs also wants to look tough on crime to advance his political ambitions, so he orders the execution of Prado's brother, an underboss in the cartel.

Prado wants revenge, and Doc is the one who can make it happen. He sends one of his enforcers, “Cuco” (Beau Knapp), to kidnap Doc's teenage daughter. Well, of course he does! If you're the daughter of an ex-Special Forces operative, the odds of you getting kidnapped are roughly 100%. Cuco will only return her if Doc literally delivers Jeffs' severed head, so he goes on a violent rampage to save his child and put an end to the deal once and for all.

Several things about Little Dixie work quite well. Frank Grillo is always a believably intense action hero, bringing the right kind of seriousness to the characters he plays. That's certainly true here, too. Beau Knapp is the other standout, projecting real menace as Cuco while shrewdly avoiding the clichés of cartel members onscreen. Instead of going “big,” he portrays this guy as someone who holds his sociopathic tendencies in check, radiating a vibe of danger that's eerie because his demeanor is more subtle. The movie's best scene finds him calmly confessing to Doc's daughter that he first killed someone when he was a child, then inferring that his way of dealing with such trauma was growing to enjoy it.

Director John Swab stages the action scenes efficiently, if somewhat generically, but the film has a few storytelling problems. Several of the supporting characters, including those played by Annabeth Gish and Peter Greene, are not properly introduced, making their function confusing. (I never did figure out who Greene was supposed to be.) Plot elements are recycled out of dozens of other B-grade action movies, meaning where the story will go is predictable. There's also a slightly offensive detour in which Cuco goes to a drag club and picks up one of the performers. The screenplay treats it as a joke, like “Ha ha, this ruthless killer is gay and likes to have sex with drag queens.” That character's inevitable demise is too nasty, as if the movie is trying to play into the current right-wing animosity toward drag queens.

I've seen way worse than Little Dixie. Not much about the picture is really new or different, though. It carries out a routine formula slightly better than normal, yet not well enough to be worth spending two hours on.

out of four

Little Dixie is rated R for strong violence and bloody images, pervasive language, some sexual content, and brief nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.