‘End of the Road’: Finally, a Netflix thriller that works, thanks to Queen Latifah
She’s a single mom who accidentally crosses a crime boss and a mob of armed racists in the thoroughly entertaining action movie.
You know what happens when we’ve got ourselves a Dead Husband or an Estranged Cheating Hubby in a thriller or a horror movie before the film even starts, don’t you?
Ding ding ding! That’s right: Mom decides it’s time for a fresh start, so she drags the Complaining Children (usually one girl and one boy) along on a road trip to a distant locale where everything will be just fantastic, and she doesn’t want to hear another word about how the kids don’t want to move, and it would be nice if they’d look up from their smart phones and tablets once in a while and take in the country air.
So it goes with the credulity-defying, violent and thoroughly entertaining “End of the Road” on Netflix, with Queen Latifah as the widowed mom Brenda, Mychala Faith Lee as teenage daughter Kelly and Shaun Dixon as precocious younger brother Cameron. And let’s have Chris “Ludacris” Bridges in the car to boot, playing Brenda’s weed-smoking, laid-back brother Reggie, a lifelong screwup who might as well be Brenda’s third child, what with his penchant for getting into all sorts of trouble.
Netflix presents a film directed by Millicent Shelton and written by Christopher J. Moore and David Loughery. Rated R (for strong/bloody violence, drug use, sexual content, and language). Running time: 91 minutes. Available Friday on Netflix.
“End of the Road” was produced for maybe 10% of the budget allotted for the big, bloated, star-studded Netflix thrillers “The Gray Man” and “Red Notice” (both reportedly cost some $200 million to make), and it doesn’t come close to approaching the glamour value, breathtaking location shots and epic action sequences of those two films — but it’s better at executing its mission, which is to immerse us in 90 minutes of old-fashioned bloody vigilante satisfaction.
Latifah lends her instant likability and warm, strong presence to the role of Brenda, an ER nurse whose husband died after a long illness, with the medical bills leaving Brenda with no choice but to sell the house in California. Time to start up the SUV and head to Houston, where Brenda’s mother lives, with little brother Reggie riding shotgun and the kids in the backseat, simmering with resentment. (We immediately believe the family dynamic between these four actors, who play quite well off one another.)
On the first night of the trip, the family shares a room in a dicey motel near Tucson — and no sooner have they said their good nights when they’re startled by the sounds of a gunshot next door, followed by a car peeling out of the parking lot. Brenda tells the kids to call 911 while she and Reggie check out the room, where they find a man bleeding out from a gunshot wound. Despite Brenda’s best efforts (remember, she’s an emergency room nurse), this guy is a goner.
The next morning here comes good ol’ Beau Bridges as the wily veteran “Captain J.D. Hammers of the Arizona State Troopers,” as he likes to identify himself. When he learns Brenda and family gave their statements and headed on their way, he reaches out to tell them they could be in serious danger, as the mysterious and powerful and ruthless crime syndicate boss known as “Mister Cross” is most likely behind the murder and will be coming for the bag of loot that was stolen from the motel room.
Bag of loot? says Brenda. I don’t know anything about any bag of loot. I’ll give you one guess as to who took that satchel of cash and stashed it in the back of the SUV. Oh Reggie, this time you’ve really done it.
The oblivious Brenda takes the family on a detour to an Old Western theme park town in New Mexico so they can shake off the traumatic memories of the night before. (This sequence was filmed at Santa Fe’s Bonanza Creek Ranch and includes a scene in the church where, a few months later, a tragic shooting would occur during the filming of the movie “Rust.” Given the church scene isn’t absolutely essential to the plot, it might have behooved the filmmakers to leave it on the cutting room floor.)
Reggie finally comes clean to Brenda about the satchel of cash he’s stolen, and things take ever darker turns as Brenda tries to return the money, but winds up separated from her family and in the clutches of Aryan Nation thugs who look like they wandered over from the set of “The Hills Have Eyes.” It seems like quite the mismatch, what with Brenda surrounded by a dozen armed and heavily muscled racist morons, but come on, this is a SINGLE MOM WHO WILL DO ANYTHING TO PROTECT HER FAMILY.
Brenda, Reggie and the kids still have a myriad of challenges to face before they get to Texas and we’ll say no more about what transpires, other than to note that we close with “Good Day” by Nappy Roots on the soundtrack, and that’s a welcome sound at End of the Road.