Steeped in the mythology of down-home juke joints and Delta bluesmen, John Sayles’s little ditty about Southern roadhouse culture meeting rock & roll will undoubtedly delight rare-record collectors. The music, ranging from innuendo-laden laments to fleet-fingered Chuck Berry riffing, feels as if it were unearthed from an archivist’s dusty crates; vinyl nerds who recognize that Danny Glover’s weary bar owner is based on boogie pianist Pinetop Perkins will be high-fiving each other in the aisles. Almost everyone else—especially Sayles’s fans—are apt to wonder why the needle keeps skipping out of the groove. The populist director-screenwriter’s strengths, namely crafting big-picture social realism and displaying a feel for the working class, show up only in fits and starts; his incredible ear for how real people talk is all but AWOL.
The story creaks like an old 78 platter: Tyrone Purvis (Glover) can only save the titular Saturday-night spot if he gets notorious no-show Guitar Sam to pack the house. Meanwhile, a mysterious young man (Clark) with a six-string breezes into town. You don’t need an abacus to figure out what comes next. Nor do we require supporting characters—man-eating big mama, peckerwood sheriff, sagely blind Dobro player—who are merely clichéd sketches. Any good intentions and grace notes are stalled by an overall sense of inertia. There’s no sweet nectar here, just Americana trapped in amber.
Cast and crew
Charles S Dutton
Lisa Gay Hamilton