I'm probably being too kind for the latest Mario Van Peebles film, "Redemption Road", but the one crown is for tenacity if nothing else.


I originally screened this Michael Clark Duncan vehicle at the 2010 Chicago Film Festival under it's original title of "Black, White and Blues". The obvious curiosity was if Van Peebles had found his mojo again - he hasn't had a decent film since 1991s "New Jack City" which I'm now wondering if he actually directed it! His next wide release film was "Posse" which made a profit but was a western that should have been better.


He has since wallowed around making nondescript documentaries and episodes television series. "Redemption Road" is an attempt to get back into the big screen game - after seeing Tyler Perry make all kinds of money. But this isn't it.

After bouncing around a few other film festivals, Van Peebles changed the title and is releasing it only in the south, where folks might be interested.


Based on a story written by Morgan Simspon - who also stars in it as Jefferson Bailey, the protagonist - this is a film about one man who is down on his luck who meets what he thinks is his guardian angel in the form of Augy (Michael Clark Duncan).


Okay, that's not too implausible. Remember Duncan did play that type of role in "The Green Mile". But this isn't a story by Stephen King.


Jefferson is a blues guitarist who has a reputation of stage fright. He can perform when nobodies looking, but he just can't turn the corner on the way to stardom. Augy shows up mysteriously with an offer to take him home - back to his roots.

This is a good deal since Jefferson owes a ton of money, drinks and has basically lost his gal pal Hanna (Kiele Sanchez). He is a loser looking for [drum roll please] redemption.


So he takes Augy up on this short, odd road trip back home and starts to loosen up. But the question is, who is Augy? Why is he significant?


The answer is really: Who cares!


It is clear that Van Peebles figured to skew the extremely weak storyline with a decent support cast including Tom Skerritt and Taryn Manning (and of course his dad Melvin Van Peebles). But their roles are to little, too late.


The settings in rural Tennessee are gorgeously shot, the one thing Van Peebbles still understands how to do; but the narrative is just weak. He tries to pump it up toward the ending with a scene of Duncan on the dance floor getting jiggy. Really, do we want to see Michael Clark Duncan getting jiggy with it? I think not!


"Redemption Road" is one of those films to see on a rainy Georgia or Tennessee afternoon with your trusty pillow. It was presumably a paycheck for Duncan and Skerritt and little more. Van Peebles has a couple of other projects in the chute, maybe they are better.   -- GEOFF BURTON