A drag strip racer desperate for cash and his reckless brother-in-law pay the price for robbing a small town pill mill. Mob Land aims to be a gritty crime thriller and social commentary on the ravages of the opiod epidemic. It does neither well in a convoluted plot with an ensemble cast of Hollywood veterans sporting Southern twangs. None of the characters are believable once the premise takes hold. Keystone cops bumble about while bodies fill the morgue. Anyone with a junior detective badge could have solved the initial crime and stopped the bloody aftermath.
Shelby Connors (Shiloh Fernandez) revs his hot rod at the local drag strip. The mechanic swallows medication to stop his shaking hands. The crowd roars as the cars rocket off the line with burnt rubber and smoke. Shelby returns to his rural Mississippi house. He works on an engine in the barn with his young daughter, Mila (Tia Dimartino), watching. Shelby’s wife, Caroline (Ashley Benson), picks up the girl when her brother visits. Trey (Kevin Dillon) chuckles as Shelby mocks his lime green Japanese import. The laughter ceases when Shelby’s uncle arrives. Sheriff Bodie Davis (John Travolta) says hello to his nephew before questioning an uncomfortable Trey.
The following day brings sobering news. Shelby learns from an employer that his friend died of a drug overdose. He gets a ride with Trey towards a seemingly innocuous business lot. Trey points to a pain clinic beside a karate studio. He tells Shelby it’s a pill mill loaded with untraceable cash. They could easily steal $100K. Shelby curses Trey for bringing him there. He doesn’t want to hear another word.
But Shelby’s calculus soon changes. His work pipeline has dried up. A trip to the bank confirms a dire financial outlook. Caroline and Mila are going to visit her parents. It would be the perfect time for the heist. Trey acquires a muscle car, ski masks, and guns. This alarms Shelby, but Trey swears all he has to do is drive.
A Ruthless Stephen Dorff
The plan goes awry from the start. Trey is forced to enter as backup. A goon recognizes Trey’s voice. He gets a bullet to the chest. Another baddie suffers the same fate. A shocked Shelby watches as Trey grabs the money and drugs. They race out of the parking lot under hot pursuit. Bodie gets a call about the robbery and a shootout in process. In New Orleans, Clayton Minor (a great Stephen Dorff), a badass mafia hit man, gets a new mission. He’s sent to retrieve the stolen property and find the culprits.
Mob Land’s fatal flaw is not respecting audiences’ intelligence after establishing the characters. Shelby’s money problems make sense. He’s in a bad spot. It’s believable that Trey can convince him to do something dangerous and stupid. The script falls apart once Bodie and his hapless deputy (Timothy V. Murphy) get video of the escape. They clearly recognize that the driver has skill. Hmmm…could it possibly be someone from town that races at the strip? That thought never occurs to them. It becomes more implausible as the surviving pill mill employees admit to being mob affiliated. Local law enforcement inexplicably gets no federal or state help even though a crime of this magnitude is way above their pay grade.
Clayton arrives in town and figures out the robbery in less than five minutes of screen time. Dorff, who has tremendous screen presence and plays threatening characters well, becomes a puppet master of sorts to clean up the mess. This involves murder galore as Shelby’s forced to do his bidding.
None of this makes any sense in a place where everyone knows each other. Bodie has an interaction with Clayton that’s completely unrealistic. A leather-clad enforcer sticks out like a like sore thumb among the local yokels. Clayton also waxes philosophical with anyone he meets, and pummels the disrespectful to a bloody pulp. A big drug theft occurs under Bodie’s nose, dead people everywhere, and then Clayton shows up out of the blue. How could a cop not be suspicious?
Style Over Substance
Writer/director Nicholas Maggio stumbles with style over substance in his feature debut. Mob Land has the look of a gangster film but struggles mightily with the details. It wouldn’t be bothersome if his story wasn’t so layered. The near two-hour runtime is packed with small moments meant to frame the characters and provide context. Maggio wants you to care about what happens to Shelby and his family. This is difficult when Shelby and Bodie are poorly realized. I also never bought them as Southerners. They are artificial constructs from the opening frame.
Mob Land may suffice those looking for an easy action fix. There’s bloody violence and not much else. Dorff is the only saving grace here.
Mob Land is a production of 308 Entertainment, TPC, Bondit Media Capital, and Grandave Capital. It will have a theatrical release on August 4th from Saban Films.