A girl is kidnapped. And that girl happens to be the daughter of an expert specializing in weapons, tactical combats, and marksmanship. A personal war ensues as the desperate father determines to do whatever it takes to save his loved one. We have seen this familiar premise many times, notably in like-minded action thrillers such as ‘Taken’. But instead of Liam Neeson, we got 57-year-old Frank Grillo leading the movie in ‘Little Dixie’, which marks the third time he worked with writer-director John Swab after they have previously collaborated in ‘Body Brokers’ and ‘Ida Red’ (both movies were released in 2021).
Grillo plays Doc Alexander, a former special forces operative who served as a middleman of sorts responsible for brokering a truce between the Mexican cartel led by the Prado family and the governor, Richard Jeffs (Eric Dane). But after the governor breaks the deal and even has one of Prado’s brothers, Juan Miguel (Luis Da Silva Jr.) sentenced to death by lethal injection, Raphael ‘Cuco’ Prado (Beau Knapp in a menacing supporting turn) leads the retaliation. Bodies start to pile up and Cuco soon abducts Doc’s titular young daughter (Sofia Bryant), forcing Doc to fight back as he attempts to save her at all costs.
After making a career playing Brock Rumlow/Crossbones in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ (2014) and ‘Captain America: Civil War’ (2016), he seems to be content playing the same no-nonsense tough-guy role that has been synonymous with his name. We see him in the likes of the two ‘Purge’ films and others like ‘Wheelman’ (2017) and ‘Point Blank’ (2019), just to name a few. He is sure good at what he does but similar to Liam Neeson, who seems to be frequently typecast in the same old role since his post-‘Taken’ late-career resurgence, it starts to grow mundane. Just how many times can an audience accept an actor who keeps repeating the same character over and over again ad nauseam?
Grillo’s character in ‘Little Dixie’ is something that he could do in his sleep and while I understand there are always fans out there who can’t get enough of him playing the usual tough-guy roles, it looks to me like he’s phoning in this movie. I get that he is supposed to be an expert. An ex-special forces operative, to be exact and he’s good with guns and all. But just because his character is a professional, that doesn’t mean the stakes have to be significantly reduced to the point there’s barely a sense of threat or danger. Here, he can take down the enemies with pinpoint shooting accuracy like it was a casual walk in the park. Aim, shoot, rinse, repeat as if the bad guys are target practice with the action set pieces almost devoid of visual urgency.
It’s not like ‘Little Dixie’ lacks any effort at all as the movie deserves praise for David Sardy’s rousing score that feels like it was lifted straight from a psychological-horror genre playbook. It was an unusual choice for a movie like ‘Little Dixie’ but it somehow works well in its favor. John Swab also slipped in some elements of macabre surprises here within its otherwise conventional action thriller genre including a scene that seemingly pays homage to one of the violent scenes in Brian De Palma’s ‘Scarface’ and even to some extent, Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia’ and the Quentin Tarantino-directed segment in ‘Sin City’.
Still, it’s difficult to ignore most of the shortcomings that drowned the good parts of ‘Little Dixie’. Grillo’s hackneyed character and low-stakes action sequences aren’t the only problems here but the same also goes for Swab’s screenplay. Although I don’t mind a movie that takes its time to build up its story, it would have been greatly appreciated if the subsequent payoff is worth the wait. Too bad this isn’t the case for ‘Little Dixie’. For all the graphically-violent moments and some of the inspired homages, ‘Little Dixie’ is too much of a missed opportunity. For instance, Swab botches the potential of developing a strong father-and-daughter bonding between Doc and his daughter. Sure, there is a get-together moment in a donut shop but it wasn’t just enough to establish their relationship, which in turn, made me barely care whether he could make it to save his daughter at the end of the movie.
Having seen John Swab’s last movie called ‘Candy Land’, a starkly compelling horror-drama that mixes the sexual exploration of truck stop prostitutes and the religious-based slasher-genre territory, it’s natural that I have high expectations for his immediate follow-up in ‘Little Dixie’. The latter, by comparison, feels like one of those listless action thrillers with a few interesting creative choices thrown in between.