Let it be said that indie writer-director John Swab is currently the hardest working man in show business, with his second film of the still young 2023, hard-boiled actioner Little Dixie, hitting theaters a mere three weeks after previous feature Candy Land. Indeed, Little Dixie was shot in only 20 days, with Swab utilizing the exact same filmmaking crew as that previous film — actors excluded — in telling his tale of ex-CIA Special Forces operative Doc Alexander (Frank Grillo), a man desperate to bring back his daughter after her kidnapping at the hands of the son (Beau Knapp) of a notorious Mexican drug lord. The film finds Swab back in crime-thriller mode, following a slight detour into exploitation hijinks with the aforementioned Candy Land. That’s not to say Swab’s output hasn’t always had its fair share of exploitative elements, but merely that the limitations inherent within the framework of the crime genre itself have tended to call upon the filmmaker’s baser instincts, while allowing for a few random digressions that prove far more fascinating than the shopworn mechanics that surround them.
Little Dixie differs from such previous, similarly-themed efforts —Ida Red and Body Brokers included — in that it’s a movie of nothing but digressions, telling a story that could barely fill an hour’s running time, yet Swab stretches it well beyond, because what thriller doesn’t need Grillo having profound conversations with a severed head in a bowling bag for long stretches? The setup is beyond convoluted until we get to the action, which then basically finds Grillo trying out his best John Wick impression, but even those scenes are completely bereft of tension — regardless of Swab’s reliable competence as a filmmaker — as there is never a question as to their outcome. In fairness, there is a great ‘80’s pop needle drop, a Swab staple, and Knapp chews scenery to such a ridiculous degree that one can’t help but be enthralled. But as entertaining as these distractions may be, they merely put into sharp contrast what made previous flick Candy Land the director’s best film — namely, its straightforward and economic storytelling. Little Dixie feels both over- and underwritten, some random thoughts scribbled in the margins of a previous screenplay stretched to their breaking point. Swab will return again, likely sooner than later, and it’s to the filmmaker’s credit that this critic is already looking forward to it. The man has that special something, that ineffable quality that marks a true talent; one merely wishes those gifts were put to better use than the likes of Little Dixie.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 5.