One Day as a Lion
by George Wolf
A few films in now, director John Swab’s favorite playbook seems to be upending familiar narratives with unexpected left turns. But unlike previous projects such as Candy Land, Little Dixie and Ida Red, his latest is built on a script Swab didn’t pen himself.
One Day as a Lion comes from screenwriter Scott Caan, who also stars as Jackie Powers, consistently recalling his father James as an Oklahoma man driven to desperate measures by the arrest of his son, Billy (Dash Melrose).
With Billy’s hearing just days away, Jackie needs money to hire TV lawyer Kenny Walsh (Billy Blair), who refers to himself in the third person and promises results. To get the money that talks to Kenny Walsh, Jackie agrees to whack powerful local rancher Walter Boggs (J.K. Simmons), who hasn’t paid his gambling debts to crime boss Pauly Russo (Frank Grillo).
But the diner hit goes south, leaving Jackie to kidnap waitress Lola Brisky (Marianne Rendón) and head out on the run, while Walter and Pauly threaten Jackie and each other.
Sound like your standard thriller, right?
Caan has something a little more zany in mind. As Jackie and Lola hit up her mother (Virginia Madsen )- a rich woman known as “Black Widow” after her trail of dead husbands – for the needed funds, a whiff of romantic comedy is in the air. And with Okie hillbillies arguing about gymnastics and Pauly yelling about belt buckles, the whole adventure starts to feel like the remote intersection of Taylor Sheridan and a Jimmy Johns commercial.
But Swab frames the dusty landscapes and empty streets with an appropriately desperate grit, the ensemble digs into the character eccentricities, and One Day as a Lion pulls you along a light but oddly compelling tale of kooky crime and possible punishment.
I’m still trying to figure out just what is up with the post-credits stinger, but even it lands with a “what just happened?” vibe that seems right at home here.