Studio: Saban Films
Director: Nicholas Maggio
Aug 23, 2023
John Travolta’s lengthy acting résumé is filled with vicissitudes. Beginning with low-budget occult horror The Devil’s Rain in 1975 before moving on to the massively more successful Carrie the following year, he has experienced a number of peaks and troughs over the course of his film acting career. Having been propelled to superstardom as the male leads in Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Grease (1978), he experienced fallow periods following the poor receptions given to Staying Alive (1983) and Look Who’s Talking Too (1990). Quentin Tarantino then noticed some untapped potential in Travolta and cast him as the leading man in Pulp Fiction (1994), thereby returning him to the A-list. From the mid-2010s onward, aside from a very impressive turn as Robert Shapiro in American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson (2016), he has mainly concentrated on appearing in low-profile, straight-to-streaming films. His latest role in director Nicholas Maggio’s debut feature, Mob Land, seems unlikely to initiate another career resurgence for the actor.
The film takes place in and around Tupelo, Mississippi and centers on Shelby Conners (Shiloh Fernandez), a semi-professional stock car racer whose already precarious livelihood is further endangered by a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. As he worries about how he will provide for his wife Caroline (Ashley Benson) and daughter Mila (Tia DiMartino), Conners’ naïve and hot-headed brother-in-law Trey (Kevin Dillon) suggests that the two of them rob a local drug dispensary ostensibly controlled by small-time hoodlums. Unfortunately, the dispensary is in fact operated by the New Orleans mob, who send brutal enforcer Clayton Minor (Stephen Dorff) after Shelby and Trey to recover their money by any means necessary, meaning that cancer-stricken local sheriff Bodie Davis (Travolta) has to prevent the ensuing conflict from engulfing this seemingly idyllic little town.
For a film whose premise offers so much, Mob Land is pretty disappointing. Its aim is seemingly to give audiences a Deep Southern neo-noir heist thriller, and it just about does so, but without any distinction. Maggio directs the central heist scene with very little suspense considering the tension inherent in the scenario being portrayed, and the action sequences that follow lack excitement. Dorff imbues Minor with a reasonable amount of sinister charisma, Dillon is convincing enough as the well-meaning but short-tempered Trey, and the chemistry between him and Fernandez is adequate. However, the film’s music cues are rather intrusive, frequently serving to distract from, rather than contribute to, the action, it is implausible that Travolta’s character would be able to participate in the very physical aspects of policing that he does whilst undergoing cancer treatment, and Dillon simply looks far too old to be convincing as the brother/brother-in-law of a couple in their thirties.
Sadly, Mob Land does not feature anything that has not been done better elsewhere. The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) and The Evening Hour (2020) are both far superior films concerning thefts motivated by rural poverty. Dorff is good in his role, but Dillon and Travolta have both done much better work in films such as The Doors (1991) and Face/Off (1997) respectively. Viewers wishing to see a strong, recent(ish) performance from the latter actor would be well-advised to check out American Crime Story. At 69, if he continues choosing to do films like this, then Travolta could well be in danger of seeing his screen acting career end not with a bang, but with an ignominious whimper
Author rating: 5/10