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“Lone Star Deception” Film Review

“Lone Star Deception,” the new political thriller from directors Don Okolo and Robert Peters, follows a gubernatorial candidate whose campaign is challenged by corruption, blackmail and a wealth of assassination attempts. The movie tries to weave multilayered mystery and shoot-em-up action, but it’s ultimately so meatheaded and aimless that it wouldn’t even work as a Steven Seagal vehicle.

After Stuart Sagle’s (Gary Lee Mahmoud) Texas gubernatorial campaign is derailed by a sex scandal, his influential greaseball uncle Bill (an always deliciously slimy Eric Roberts) brings in decorated veteran Tim Bayh (Anthony Ray Parker) as a replacement for the Republican ticket despite two controversial truths. The first seems kinda obvious to the aging, white Republican leadership: Tim is Black, and would be the first minority governor of Texas. By the way, his parents are from Sierra Leone. (Get used to this factoid; it will be senselessly burned into your skull.) 

The second truth is expressed by one leader who has no problem with the color of Tim’s skin, but is perturbed by his status as a “natural-born Democrat.” Tim assuages their concerns, saying he’ll go as far right as they need as long as they don’t scrub any color off of him. Did I mention Tim’s parents are from Sierra Leone?

I don’t know why the leadership is concerned. Tim doesn’t stand for anything. In his commercials, Tim only spews keywords — media, political correctness, “making a difference,” — resembling one of those programs that forces a bot to consume 1,000 hours of punditry and then write its own speech. It doesn’t help that Parker also delivers his lines with the passion and clarity of a tired walrus.

That dispassion carries into the rest of his interactions, whether it be with Bill, his military buddy Mark (Brian Thornton) or his wife Meg (Nse Ikpe-Etim). Tim spends most of the movie battling criminals, fighting for his life, saving his family, dodging explosions! Does that get more out of him than a lumbering walk and the occasional grumble? Nope.

Not to say Parker’s lacking material — the movie crams in too many characters and side stories for its own good. It’s not enough that Tim runs for governor, but he moonlights as Bill’s stooge, carrying out orders against the blackmailing duo, Lolita (Merlisa Determined) and Jimmy Sloan (John Maciag). The war quickly escalates and somehow, the Republican frontrunner for governor of Texas is in the middle of kidnappings, arson, shootouts and assassination attempts (oh my!) without any significant response from federal officials. Hell, at this point, I’d accept a traffic cop. 

Maybe Tim’s protected by the logic of action movies. He’s the “good guy” so he can survive anything without a scratch, right?

On a primal level, I should at least find enjoyment in the action. One thing I’ll credit the movie for: I did see a few practical explosions, which made me smile. I only wish the rest of the action were comprehensible. Much of the fighting is under-lit and over-cut, without any explanation of what the battlefield looks like and where our players are at any given time. I can usually forgive copy-and-pasted VFX gun flashes or painted streaks of “blood,” but when there’s no style to these sequences, the action just drags on. Where’s the gore? Where’s the ludicrous violence? Something needs to give this movie a pulse.

I’d look towards the cinematography, but there’s not much there. When the camera isn’t out of focus, the lighting puts the focus on the wrong people. When Bill introduces Tim to the Republican leadership, the close-ups on each leader don’t match. Each setup looks like it was shot at a different time and place. People are awkwardly framed on the far edges of the screen; are my eyes supposed to look at the blank space in the middle? This is one of those movies where regardless of whether someone’s talking outdoors, on the news or on a TV set, the lighting and camera work looks the same, just as flat as it’s always been.

Normally, I’d be lenient on a low-budget approach, but the truth is: There’s not much else “Lone Star Deception” has going for it, unless you’re looking for misogyny. Should I bring up how a group of women Bill’s taking on an impromptu date to Vegas are called his “nieces”? What about the talks of “bimbo ex-wives” and “two-dollar c—s”? It sounds like the byproduct of a bitter divorce.

It’s also the type of movie obsessed with bringing up Tim’s race at every single turn. It’s not enough to be called an “son of a bitch.” No, he has to be a “Black son of a bitch.” He’s the “ballsy African.” Did I mention his parents are from Sierra Leone? Though, the one that takes the cake for me is when a reporter refers to Tim as the “Black horse” in the race. Not the “dark horse.” That would’ve been a pun and, while stupid, at least fits the parameters of…a joke. I had to pause the movie for a little bit after that line, I’ll be honest. I’d be better off if I hadn’t continued. Hopefully, you won’t even press play.

“Lone Star Deception” is now playing on digital platforms (Vimeo on Demand, Amazon,  FlixFling, InDemand, Vudu, FANDANGO).

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