Commit this to memory: Nothing Good Ever Happens In Louisiana. Dead on Arrival taught this to me over the course of its run time and it was a lesson I won’t soon forget.
Synopsis: Dead on Arrival follows pharmaceutical sales rep Sam as he visits a small town in Louisiana to close the business deal of a lifetime. Sam finds himself in a dark world of corruption and murder when he is poisoned with no antidote to save his life. Desperate for answers, with only 24 hours to live, Sam turns to local girl Jesse. On the run, caught in a deadly vertigo with no one to trust, Sam and Jesse find themselves running from police detectives, the mob and a dirty sheriff who wants them dead. (Vision Films)
Starring: Billy Flynn, Chris Mulkey, and D.B. Sweeney
Writer: Stephen C. Sepher
Director: Stephen C. Sepher
Rating: 14A (Canada)
Running Time: 97mins
Dead on Arrival has a particularly interesting premise; Sam Collins (Flynn), a pharmaceutical rep, spends an evening with a Doctor and his suspicious cohorts at a New Year’s Eve party in Louisiana. After being hospitalized the next day, he finds out that he has been injected with a toxin that will kill him in 24hrs. From there, Sam ventures to find his killer and exact revenge before time runs out. Along the way, he untangles a half-woven web of semi-intrigue about insurance fraud, prescription drugs, and the mob. The problem is that while the story might sound interesting in theory, the actual result is less than ideal.
Lead by Flynn and featuring some well-known faces in D.B. Sweeney (Detective Spiro) and Chris Mulkey (Hans Dunkel), the cast does a decent job of bringing the story to life, but at times, their lack of direction or range is noticeable and hinders the story from carrying any weight as well as some of their poorly spoken Louisiana accents. That was the film’s largest problem; it’s inability to make the stakes of the plot come alive and feel palpable. Collins’ dilemma was difficult to buy into, his revenge and survival, at no point during this struggle did it ever feel real or that he was not going to find a way out. Not to mention that his lack of meaningful relationships with any other character in the film with the exception of a reluctant dancer that is short-lived and the rare mention of a family that felt more like a nuisance than a motivation to stay alive helped show that there was nothing tangible about the main character of the film which begs to ask why should the viewer become emotionally invested in the first place?
What makes this even more difficult is that there are some good moments throughout Dead On Arrival. The cinematography, while not groundbreaking, does stand out at times offering beautifully crafted shots, however, it does falter at times exposing the film’s lack of production value in certain places. The pacing felt rushed during certain parts of the plot while spending too long on others, particularly in the film’s second act. This lead to the plot feeling convoluted at times which caused the story to spin in place awaiting a character death or action piece to thrust it out of delay.
Overall, while Dead On Arrival isn’t necessarily bad but throughout the film, there were many points where it could’ve been a much better film. The premise was intriguing but was conveyed with a mediocre touch which in turn kept the narrative from ever becoming something more. What’s sad is that there were good moments to this film but they will ultimately be lost amongst the portions that stand out as being less than good. Some of those are forgivable (Southern accents, musical choices) but others are hard to take in considering that if several changes were made in its screenplay and editing that the overall product would feel more complete. In the end, Dead on Arrival feels destined for Netflix and I’m not exactly sure whether or not that is a good or bad thing.