(director: Fisher Stevens; screenwriter: Cheryl Guerriero; cinematographer: Tobias A. Schliessler; editor: Geoffrey Richman; music: Tamar-kali; cast: Justin Timberlake (Palmer), Ryder Allen (Sam), Alisha Wainwright (Maggie), Juno Temple (Shelly), June Squibb (Vivian), Dean Winters (Jerry), Wynn Everett (Lucille), Jesse C. Boyd (Coles), Stephen Louis Grush (Daryl), J,D. Evermore (Principal Forbes), Carson Minniear (Toby, bully), Charmin Lee (Judge); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Charles B. Wessler/Charlie Corvin/Sidney Kimmel, Daniel Nadler/John Penotti; Rhea Films/Apple TV; 2021)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Palmer is a sappy and sentimental crowd-pleaser. It’s a disposable melodrama, that could be a cable movie family drama if its bad language were cut. Fisher Stevens (“Another World”/”Before The Flood”) directs in a ham-fisted and gooey way. The film should appeal to undemanding viewers as something heartfelt but mushy. It’s implausibly written by Cheryl Guerriero, which gives grating pointless lessons on how to behave with kids who have been bullied in school and abandoned at home by their parents.
Justin Timberlake, the singer turned actor, is on a bad run of films. Here he plays Eddie, who is the titular character called Palmer in the film and not Eddie. He has just been released from prison on parole for a crime not disclosed until much later (when we don’t care anymore). The rough guy jock from a bad childhood goes back home to live with his loving grandma Vivian (June Squibb) in the South. She raised him when his mom abandoned him and his dad died. At home he discovers hanging around the house a timid little boy named Sam (Ryder Allen), whom he never knew existed. We learn Sam’s not dependable mom (Juno Temple) is a drug addict living in a trailer on Vivian’s property with her new abusive boyfriend (Dean Winters). Vivian is raising Sam out of necessity when the kid’s parents just leave him to run off for long periods of time (I guess Vivian didn’t think this was something she should write to her grandson about).
Well, before you can say what would John Wayne do with this effete and talkative cupcake of a kid, Palmer acts to protect the bullied loner kid from the terrors he experiences in a small-town Southern school by beating up those who bully him and giving the kid pep talks on how not to be bullied.
I’m beginning to feel better about Sam’s situation now that Justin is around. In any case, Palmer gets work as the school janitor and begins dating Sam’s attractive teacher (Alisha Wainwright)–like, yeah, lady teachers in the South have attractions for custodians and ex-cons.
When granny dies, Palmer continues to look after the kid in a fatherly way. As a result the former football player at LSU and the cutey 8-year-old bond as a father and son act, and the red state Louisiana is a little better off for it.
In this dull, formulaic, forgettable picture, one lacking in imagination, we don’t have to deal with any surprises. The story lumbers along to fulfill all its talking points, with the likable Justin coming through as a good guy and performing as well as anyone could be expected to with such fluff material.
I place no blame on Justin for being in this so-so film, I just blame him for choosing to be in it when he could have been in better films. Just a few years back he was in really good films by David Fincher and the Coen Brothers, where he performed decently.
REVIEWED ON 2/11/2021 GRADE: C