A film such as Lone Star Deception feels particularly timely in today’s social environment. Issues of race in America have never been so tense, and the unrelenting backlash towards Donald Trump’s presidency continues to rage on – and Don Okolo’s film seems to play upon the seediness and scandal of right-wing American politics, while also incorporating a charming level of 80s action-movie aesthetics.
The film focuses on Tim Bayh (Anthony Ray Parker), a Democrat-turned-Republican who, under unexpected circumstances, leads the race for Governor of Texas. Backing him is Bill Sagle (The Dark Knight’s Eric Roberts), a benefactor-cum-mentor who guides him through the increasingly seedy underbelly of state politics, as rivals creep out of the woodwork and loyalties are left for dead.
Okolo’s work here is interesting for a number of reasons. Lone Star Deception feels like a callback to 80s action classics a la Stallone – from the heavy use of slow-mo to the cheesy dialogue, the film’s tone is very charming, and helps anchor the experience even when the plot falters.
Which, it must be said, doesn’t happen too often. It loses its focus towards the final third, becoming less character-driven and devolving to a contrived action revenge story, but for the majority Lone Star Deception taps into a criminally under-developed subgenre of political thriller, exploring the interpersonal relations and conflicts that drive elections and political offices. The first act is especially great at slowly unravelling the situation around these characters – and without getting into specifics, there are plenty of unexpected turns that prove quite satisfying.
The film is particularly anchored by Eric Roberts’ performance: he does smarm and privilege so well, with swaggering line delivery and clear improvisational speed in how effortlessly he reacts to others. Anthony Ray Parker is the only other performance of note: Tim’s character arc is messy and underwritten, but Parker does his best and despite being a Republican, conveys some sympathy for the precarious situation Tim finds himself in.
Yet despite a strong plot, clever twists and entertaining performances, the film just feels slightly rough around the edges. Action scenes are infrequent – which is probably for the best, as their execution is unconvincing, with poor special effects and questionable stunt work. Similarly, the sound editing often proves distracting: at times the soundtrack is far too bubbly and upbeat, with a particular musical motif following crooked businessman Jimmy and his partner Lolita that feels straight out of a children’s film.
But in many ways, Lone Star Deception eases into this rough-around-the-edges aesthetic. Hell, even the title sounds like a Steven Seagal movie, alongside cheesy dialogue and an increasingly unfathomable plot, with the film working best when conveying turn-your-brain-off political bargaining and constant double-crossing rather than a serious commentary on contemporary American politics that it could’ve been. It fits the B-movie bracket that it aims for, and despite its weaknesses, is a fun watch – if anything, for the unique subject matter and strong Eric Roberts performance.
Lone Star Deception will be featured on InDemand on September 16th 2020.