[Screen It]


(2019) (Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith) (R)

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Dramatic Thriller: A couple on their first date end up on the run when the man kills a cop in self-defense during a routine traffic stop.
Earnest Hines, a.k.a. Slim (DANIEL KALUUYA), and Angela Johnson, a.k.a. Queen (JODIE TURNER-SMITH), are concluding their last-minute first date when they're pulled over by a white cop for a routine traffic stop. But the cop oversteps what he can legally do and ends up pulling his handgun on Earnest before shooting Angela in the leg when she tries to intervene. Earnest then fights with the cop and eventually grabs the gun and shoots the cop dead. Despite (or due to) being a defense lawyer, Angela tells Earnest they must flee the scene, knowing what the police and legal system will do to a black man for killing a white cop.

After kidnapping and then stealing a truck belonging to off-duty Sheriff Edgar (BENITO MARTINEZ), Angela proposes that they drive to New Orleans to see her estranged uncle, Earl (BOKEEM WOODBINE), who keeps the company of sex workers like Goddess (INDYA MOORE) and Naomi (MELANIE HALFKENNY), and might be able to help them.

He eventually sends them on their way to meet his former war buddy and that man's wife, Mr. and Mrs. Shepherd (FLEA and CHLOň SEVIGNY), and along the way they come to realize that they've become iconic hero figures in the eyes of many in the black community. That includes teenager Junior (JAHI DI'ALLO WINSTON) who's so moved by meeting them that he joins an anti-police protest.

Uncomfortable with that status and becoming an actual couple due to being stuck in their predicament, Earnest and Angela do what they can to avoid the police, all while hoping they can get to a person who will be able to fly them to the safety of Cuba.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Over the course of my fifty-five plus laps around the sun, I've seen plenty of people do and say plenty of stupid things. And maybe it's from a "get off my lawn" mentality, but it seems like the level of stupid is only increasing to the point that I won't be surprised when chimps, dolphins or some other species finally overtakes us.

Of course, as Forrest Gump used to say, "Stupid is as stupid does" and since people do dumb things in real life, we certainly expect the same in movies. That is, unless the level of stupidity -- and I'm not talking anything along the lines of "Dumb and Dumber" -- is so outrageous that it suspends your disbelief and takes you out of the proceedings for being far too blatant.

Case in point is "Queen & Slim," a timely drama about a black couple (played by Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith in her first big-screen leading role) who end up on the lam after "Slim" (never called that in the movie, we learn later on that his real name is Ernest) shoots and kills a bad cop who's already shot and wounded "Queen" (ditto, as she's Angela), natch, on their first, it didn't really go that well first date.

The idiocy begins right after that when Angela -- a defense attorney who should assume dashcam video from the police car caught the incident and could exonerate her date and certainly her -- decides they should flee the scene. Granted, she knows the ramifications of a black man shooting and killing a white cop, but still there's nothing good that will come from running and at least there's a chance if the footage can be shown to the right people (a la the same plot thrust of what occurred in the recently released "Black and Blue").

Instead, they hit the road and -- pulling into the next station of idiocy -- she ends up taking an off-duty sheriff hostage at gunpoint and leaves him in a locked car trunk on the side of the road as they steal his truck.

And then the stupidity piles on to such a degree that there should be a penalty flag thrown for unnecessary roughness. Ernest goes into a gas station to coerce a fill-up out of the guy behind the counter but then agrees to hand over the cop's gun to him for brief adoration-based handling, apparently just so first-time big-screen director Melina Matsoukas -- working from a script by Lena Waithe -- can eke out some suspense.

By this point, the "we don't really like each other yet but everyone knows we're eventually going to have sex" couple is aware that the rest of the country knows they're the perps. So, instead of laying low, they stop in a club to go dancing (one objects but quickly caves), likewise stop for some impromptu horseback riding during the day (I'm not kidding), have sex in a parked car in broad daylight, and take turns hanging part of the way out of their car in motion to enjoy the breeze, something that would obviously draw the attention of someone who might recognize them or, of course, John Q. Law.

Another fairly substantial issue with the pic is that it's tonally uneven, with weird bits of humor thrown in (I'm guessing for comic relief but that ultimately undermine the seriousness of the major and minor themes in play). Turner-Smith's performance suffers the same fate (I'm thinking the better acting were likely scenes shot later in the filming process when she had more time with the character).

For a far better film that covers some of the same sort of thematic ground, check out "Blindspotting." For me, this one just doesn't work due to distractingly stupid character actions that easily could have been fixed with another pass or two through the script rewriting process. As it stands, "Queen & Slim" certainly can be used as a jumping-off point for discussing race relations between the police and black citizens, but as a narrative piece it simply has too many problems to rate higher than a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed November 27, 2019 / Posted November 27, 2019

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