(director/writer: Eric Etebari; screenwriters: Anthony Caruso/Marialisa Caruso; cinematographer: Michael Caradonna; editor: Don Money; music: Mischa Segal; cast: Chris Mulkey (Alfio Sarda), Yancy Butler (Anna Thomas), Michael Paré (Matteo Trino), John Schneider (Martin Dwyer, the missing man), Vernon Wells (Dodson), David Chokachi (John Thomas), Steven Williams (Pastor Winfield), Sean Burgos (Emilio), Steven Cloud (Dupree), Anthony Caruso (Don Ninu), Marialisa Caruso (Lisa Thomas), Adam Gifford (illegal emerald dealer), Jonathan Jose Quintana (partner of the illegal emerald dealer), Manuel Soro (Priest); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Anthony & Marialisa Caruso; Magnificat Media Production; 2020)

“It’s as barren as the desert it’s set in.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The shoddy small-budget indie action pic about smuggling emeralds across the Mexican-U.S.A border somehow morphs into a heavy-handed faith-based film when maybe I wasn’t looking. It’s directed and written by Eric Etebari (“Snapshot”/”Bare Knuckles”) and co-written by the father-daughter team of Anthony Caruso and Marialisa Caruso. The misbegotten redemption film suffers from incoherent storytelling, weirdness, some of the worse editing I’ve ever encountered in a feature film, leaden acting, a lame script and third-rate direction. In other words, it’s as barren as the desert it’s set in.

The out of work and non-believing Catholic John Thomas (David Chokachi) decides to risk his life for his daughter when he learns his college-aged daughter Lisa (Marialisa Caruso, the co-screenwriter) is taking illegal drugs to alleviate the pain from an improperly diagnosed disease and the medical expenses for her treatments are getting too costly; and, furthermore, she’s not getting better now that the family is regularly praying together in church, a move that his devout Catholic wife Anna (Yancy Butler) insisted on taking. The family man dad then decides he needs to get the money for the right specialists to treat his daughter and to get the money needed decides to take a crooked job offer he has previously turned down from his wife’s father, Alfio (Chris Mulkey), who is a falsely righteous Italian mob boss and an Italian restaurant owner, to smuggle emeralds across the Mexican border for his clients.

John is dropped off in the desert by the pilot (Steven Cloud) of a private small plane. There he meets his guide, the Mexican driver named Emilio (Sean Burgos). He takes John further into the desert to meet his Colombian businessmen contacts (Adam Gifford & Jonathan Jose Quintana). But the driver sizes-up the men as hired killers, so they flee in the desert in their vehicle with samples of the emeralds they have stolen from those in hot pursuit in their dune buggy.

When the pursuing gunmen catch up with the two in the desert, John and the driver trick the Colombians into thinking they are dead and pull a gun on them as a gunfight ensues. Only a wounded John survives and with the emeralds intact. While on foot and alone in the desert looking for the highway home, he starts hallucinating about his friend who has been missing for ten years (John Schneider) and about a preacher (Steven Williams) he once met who helped him find himself.

When almost dead in the desert, a weirdo religious fanatic (Is there any other kind!) named Dodson (Vernon Wells), living alone in the desert in a high-tech trailer, finds John and nurses him back to health and offers him a chance at redemption if he can prove that he’s become a true believer in the Lord (he tells John he does the same service for illegal immigrants). Before you can say bullshit or mirage or bingo, a cleaned-up John is back on his feet and standing in front of his sleazy, double-crossing father-in-law, in his Italian restaurant, with the boss’s bodyguard (Michael Paré) pointing a gun at him.

What happens next is something you have to see for yourself to believe, as the storyline becomes more absurd than what you can probably imagine.

When it comes to bad films that are completely muddled, you should keep this one in mind—it’s that bad and that muddled.