“Down the Road” and Far From Coherent

Dancers perform to the swinging bossa nova beat of JP Tropical at the premiere of Down the Road. - Photo by Mimi Yeh

Dancers perform to the swinging bossa nova beat of JP Tropical at the premiere of “Down the Road.” – Photo by Mimi Yeh

MiMi Yeh

Dorchester’s Strand Theatre was pleased to present on Saturday, November 9 the third in a series of five movies of the Latino Film Consortium organized by UMB student and producer, H. Fernando Bossa. A CPCS major, he hopes to get more involved in the media and the graphic arts. This was the first screening of “Down the Road,” which, like many independent films, doesn’t usually have a chance to reach the big screen.

The pre-screening festivities offered live music from the band JP Tropical and salsa dancers rocking out to Tito Puente covers. In attendance were most of the cast and production crew of the featured film, including Juan Reynoso, the director who adapted it from the original stage play.

“Down the Road” tells the story of a Korean War veteran who comes home only to find out that his parents were killed in an electrical fire and his wife is now happily remarried. Ben Dunmoore decides to head west to the hills of Arkansas to find out where his father came from. Once there, he ends up involved in a family that embodies every stereotype of poor country folk. It sets out with lofty ambitions of being a journey of self-discovery but ends up regurgitating every tired cliché with soap opera-like effect. I’m not sure what made me cringe more, the dialogue or the acting.

The focus of the story is a city boy discovering his roots, which turn out to be the abandoned Mrs. Dunmoore and her five daughters. Yet beyond flirting with two possible “cousins,” with an implied involvement with one of them, he doesn’t do much investigating. The man that could be considered his “uncle,” Caleb Dunmoore, disappeared long ago and had a history of being unemployed and chronically drunk.

It feels as if the forced buildup toward Ben finding out who his family is was a lame excuse to rehash every formulaic idea of the ignorant country folk versus enlightened city folk. Much time is spent trying to secure that feeling of “small town secrecy” and “outsiders beware,” and every other line includes allusions to big city living and Los Angeles.

Of course, Ben is the ideal son, so wholesome he orders warm apple pie and even resists the advances of the eldest Dunmoore, ingénue Darlene, who vacillates between sexual machinations and contrived dreams of a better life. The rest of the Dunmoores include two tomboyish farm hands, one flirty, scantily clad siren, and a mute named Mary who is called “Little Bit” because she’s just a little bit special. It turns out that she’s not mute, she just refuses to speak because she has nothing to say.

It’s not enough that they’re considered poor white trash or that Caleb’s ghost is blamed for all their problems. Added to this is the fact that, according to Ma Dunmoore, their father tried to sexually abuse the kids, but she never intervened because they always outran him, and you get a ridiculously discordant bodice ripper written in the style of a V.C. Andrews novel. Think “Deliverance” meets Lifetime Network production and you won’t be that far off from the believability and dramatic effects that it employs.

When Ben gets ready to leave, his conversation with Little Bit reaches into the realm of the absurd. She knows what a letter is and she knows enough to kill her sister’s abusive boyfriend but she doesn’t know what a “brother” is. She lives in the Midwest, not the middle of nowhere. And when Ben is confronted by the fact that the Dunmoores harbor a psycho in training, his response is to promise to write and stroll off into the sunset, happily ever after.

This movie is one big hyperbole, full of gross exaggerations that would be hilarious if they weren’t so crass in trying to portray timeless themes of family and a sense of home. A Danielle Steele novel is more believable and ultimately, more entertaining than this travesty.