Frank Grillo takes out the trash in this trashy action-thriller.
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Writer/director John Swab is one busy dude. February’s just begun and he’s already released his second film of the year with a third (“One Day as a Lion”) on the way later in 2023. Swab kicked the year off with the truck stop sex worker slasher flick “Candyland” (now on VOD). His latest is the dramatic action-thriller “Little Dixie,” which is currently available in select theaters and on VOD.
Doc Alexander (Frank Grillo) is an ex-special forces soldier who works as a fixer between his former squadmate and current Oklahoma Governor Richard Jeffs (Eric Dane) and a Mexican drug cartel overseen by Lalo Miguel Prado (Maurice Compte). Jeffs just ill-advisedly executed Lalo’s brother Juan Miguel (Luis Da Silva Jr.). Adding insult to injury Jeffs holds a grandstanding press conference during which he threatens a similar fate befalling Lalo.
These two factions are now at war. Lalo dispatches his half-brother Cuco (Beau Knapp) to exact revenge upon Jeffs. Caught in the crosshairs is Doc’s daughter Nell (Sofia Bryant), whom Cuco kidnaps. Faster than you can say, “Bring Me the Head of Dr. McSteamy,” Cuco demands that Doc decapitate Jeffs and deliver him the dome in exchange for his daughter.
Doc lives a pretty empty existence at the bottom of a bottle aside from having the undying love of Nell (nicknamed Little Dixie … hence the title). His ex-wife Carla (Sufe Bradshaw) hates his guts. He’s a social pariah who’s long since lost Jeffs’ friendship. His only friend is fellow fixer Billie Riggs (Annabeth Gish), who often uses him for political leverage. Doc has no choice but to employ his “particular set of skills” in order to rescue Nell.
I’m a fan of Grillo’s and he often does his best work when playing a conflicted antihero as he did in the films “The Purge: Anarchy,” “Wheelman” and “Boss Level” or on television with “Kingdom.” Doc fits well within this archetype and Grillo excels in the role.
Matching if not exceeding Grillo in intensity is Knapp, whose work here calls to mind the filmography of Eli Wallach and Shia LaBeouf’s turn in David Ayer’s “The Tax Collector.” The half-white half-Mexican Cuco is a force of nature and one to be reckoned with … he’s one of the more memorable villains of recent memory. Knapp has a history of playing scumbags in flicks such as “The Nice Guys” and Eli Roth’s 2018 “Death Wish” remake and Cuco just might be his scummiest part to date.
I’ve enjoyed the films I’ve seen of Swab’s to varying degrees. I reviewed his 2021 efforts "Body Brokers" (which co-starred the late, great Michael Kenneth Williams and to whom “Little Dixie” is partially dedicated) and "Ida Red." I dug “Little Dixie” too despite some fairly serious caveats. I don’t know if Swab is trying to normalize queer culture, sensationalize it or both, but the depictions of homosexuality on display here were arguably homophobic and fairly disturbing. (Doc sneaks up on a member of Jeffs’ security detail who’s distracted by the Grindr app on his cell phone. He proceeds to shove him over a balcony railing and shoots the incapacitated man in the head below. Cuco hooks up with a drag queen named Misty (Mark Ward) before promptly beating her to death at the drop of a hat.)
Like its title character, “Little Dixie” could use a tad more development. (All we know about Nell is that she loves Doc, has intentions of going to college, is tough like her Dad and prefers ketchup on her hamburgers … that’s about it. Bryant is saddled with mostly playing damsel in distress clichés.) Sure, it’s violent, sleazy and borderline offensive, but “Little Dixie” is undeniably entertaining. If Grillo fronting a flick that plays like “Michael Clayton” meets “Taken” appeals to you in the slightest you’ll likely dig it.