Engagingly anchored by character actor John Hawkes, “Small Town Crime” is a satisfyingly quirky serving of frisky pulp fiction.
Hawkes’ Mike Kendall is a piece of work — an unrepentant alcoholic of a disgraced ex-cop who attempts to outrun his past behind the beer-can-cluttered dashboard of his black Chevy Nova.
His shot at redemption arrives the morning after one of his benders, when he discovers the battered body of a young woman in an empty field not far from where he passed out the night before.
Determined to find her killer — and save himself in the process — Mike’s on the P.I. case, receiving oddball back-up from the victim’s vengeful grandfather (Robert Forster) and a purple-Impala-driving pimp named Mood (Clifton Collins Jr.).
Sharing directing and screenplay chores, brothers Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms have a good ear for the playful neo-noir tone and an equally strong eye for casting, also bringing in always-reliable Octavia Spencer as Kendall’s tough-love sister and Anthony Anderson as her sympathetic husband.
But it’s ultimately the impressively adaptable Hawkes, an Oscar nominee for “Winter’s Bone,” (he’s currently in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) whose languid gravitas informs the film as a whole.
With Hawkes at the wheel, the Tarantino-esque terrain may be familiar, but it doesn’t make the ride any less enjoyable.
‘Small Town Crime’
Rating: R, for strong violence, language and some sexual references
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: Vintage Los Feliz 3, Los Angeles; also on VOD