Through a quirk of indie distribution, "Death and Texas," having floated around the festival circuit for a few years, has landed in local theaters hot on the heels of "Death of a President" and "Shut Up & Sing." A faux documentary, "Texas" rolls together two institutions that seem closely connected to the popular perception of the president's home state — football and the death penalty.
A pro football player (Steve Harris) is implicated in a convenience store holdup and shooting. Having been sentenced to death, he is given an unusual furlough to rejoin his team for a championship game on the day before his scheduled execution. Though no one wants to admit it officially, his life hangs on the outcome of the big game.
Written and directed by Kevin DiNovis, who previously made the kinky comedy "Surrender Dorothy," "Death and Texas" wears its heart on its sleeve, leaving no doubt as to where the sympathies of its creator lie. For much of its running, the film is a rather lacerating and sometimes laugh-out-loud take on the confluence of media, politics and modern life. With a cast that includes Charles Durning, Andy Richter, Romany Malco and Mary Kay Place, it should come as no surprise that a sly, off-kilter sensibility reigns.
There are times that DiNovis lets the sincerity of his political agenda show through, and it's precisely at those moments that the film loses its way. In preparation for the big game, the singing of the national anthem is shown in split-screen with a rundown of execution day's timetable by a prison administrator (played by nasally punk rocker Jello Biafra). In moments such as these — the handling of an execution is another — the film isn't so much on-the-nose as it is an unwelcome punch in the head. While it would like to be nimble, light-footed satire, too often "Death and Texas" stumbles on its own earnestness, wearing cement shoes when it should be tap-dancing.
'Death and Texas'
MPAA rating: Unrated
A Neofight Film release. Writer-director Kevin DiNovis. Producer Stephen Israel. Director of photography Jonathan Kovel. Editors Geena Bleier, Alex Stanhope. Running time: 1 hour, 17 minutes.
Exclusively at Laemmle's Grande, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown L.A. (213) 617-0268.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times