(director/writer: Tyler Nilson/Michael Schwartz; cinematographer: Nigel Bluck; editors: Kevin Trent /Nat Fuller; music: Jonathan Sadoff, Zachary Dawes, Noam Pilekny, Gabe Witcher; cast: Dakota Johnson (Eleanor), Shia LaBeouf (Tyler), Zack Gottsagen (Zak), John Hawkes (Duncan), Bruce Dern (Carl), Thomas Haden Church (Clint/The Salt Water Redneck), Jon Bernthal (Mark), Wayne DeHart (Blind Jasper John), Jake “The Snake” Roberts (Sam), Mick “Mankind”  Foley (Jacob), Yelawolf (Ratboy); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, Christopher Lemole, Tim Zajaros, Lije Sarki, David Thies; Roadside Attractions; 2019)

It succeeds despite its flaws, at least, in being zany,lightweight and crowd-pleasing entertainment.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

First-time feature writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz present this charming, feel-good, comical, road adventure tale about a screw-up and a rejected Down syndrome man joining forces to save themselves from impending failure. It tries to be an innocent Americana adventure tale like one from Mark Twain and does so until it runs out of imagination by the third act and the gestures that were initially cute now become tiresome. It succeeds despite its flaws, at least, in being zany, lightweight and crowd-pleasing entertainment.

The thirtysomething gentle Down syndrome victim Zak (Zack Gottsagen) has been dumped by his family in a backwoods southern state-run old-age nursing home, where the young man is out of place with all the old folks and rotting away. He’s a roommate of the fun-loving but grumpy senior Carl (Bruce Dern), and looked-after by the dedicated, attractive, young, city girl voluntary nurse Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). Zak yearns for his freedom and the chance to be a pro wrestler and figures his only chance of living out his dream is to escape the facility. After the bed check he is helped by Carl. When dressed only in his underwear, the greased Zak slips out of the bedroom window, whose gates are pushed back. After reaching the swamps in the morning, Zak hides in the rundown boat of a misfit local North Carolina bearded country-boy outlaw crab fisherman Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who just lost his fishing license for stealing the traps of rivals Duncan (John Hawkes) and Ratboy (Yelawolf). The rivals give him a beating and in revenge he burns down their run-down dock and hurriedly flees in his boat with them in pursuit. While on the run, he has no choice but to take the stowaway Zak with him.

At first chilly to the amenable Zak, Tyler predictably gets to like him as time passes and even helps him without patronizing him after getting to know him better. He thereby becomes his mentor and unlikely wrestling coach. Whenackwoods Tyler needs a new boat after his breaks down, a loudmouth backwoods blind black preacher, Blind Jasper John (Wayne DeHart), lets them build a raft from material in his junkyard when Zak is baptized by him.

Eventually Eleanor tracks them down in the swamps and is lured into going on the raft with them, down the Pamlico Sound,  to a wrestling school in Florida run by Zak’s favorite wrestler, The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). Zak watched watched his hero countless times at the nursing home on an old videotape as he promoted his former wrestling school.

By this time any possibility of coming up with a plausible end to the story had come and gone. But the indie film, made on a shoestring budget and financed as a good-will gesture by the actor Josh Broslin, has my respect for being made in the first place, that it was so professionally shot and how endearing were the soulful performances by Zack Gottsagen and Shia LaBeouf. The warm performance by Gottsagen was so good, I wouldn’t be shocked if he got considered for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  

REVIEWED ON 12/1/2019  GRADE: B-