2022, R, 98 min. Directed by Krystin Ver Linden. Starring Keke Palmer, Common, Jonny Lee Miller, Gaius Charles, Natasha Yvette Williams, Madelon Curtis, Alicia Witt, Jaxon Goldenberg.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., March 18, 2022
Fresh off its premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Krystin Ver Linden’s revenge drama Alice wears its references so neatly that it’s easy fodder for a hungry film critic to generate any number of potential pull quotes for the film’s marketing use. That quote definitely begins with M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village and segues into something like 1999’s Blast From the Past before ending with, say Foxy Brown (Coffy would be a little too on the nose). From a strictly conceptual standpoint, there’s a lot of potential here, which is why it’s such a drag to report that the film is, well, you know, a real drag (alas, no pull quote potential here).
So, who is Alice (Palmer)? She’s a slave living on a plantation in Antebellum Georgia who, at the start of the film, is getting married to Joseph (Charles) in a secret ceremony. The wedding is cut short, however, by the volatile plantation owner, one Paul Bennett (Miller, with an epic goatee that does most of the heavy lifting here). Paul’s got a soft spot for Alice, even teaching her to read so she can recite stories for his enjoyment. After Joseph attempts an escape and is left for dead, Alice loses it and flees herself, and runs straight into the path of a truck driven by Frank (Common). You see, the year is actually 1973, and Paul’s plantation is an extended experiment in living time capsules from hell.
Turns out, Frank is a pretty good guy for Alice to run into. He’s an ex-Black Panther who, once he figures out what’s what, introduces Alice to all manner of pertinent civil rights history she’s missed out on, along with bologna, television, and Diana Ross. Newly empowered, Alice hatches a plan to return to the plantation to wreak a fiery vengeance, after a quick screening of Pam Grier’s Coffy, of course.
Both Palmer and Common seem game, but they are hindered by a surprisingly generic and uninspired script. Alice’s fatal flaw, however, is its erratic pace. Spending the opening third of the film on the plantation would be effective if there was anything resembling an escalation of tension, but these scenes just blandly reiterate dehumanizing slavery tropes. Once she’s free, Alice’s culture shock and education (and Frank’s backstory) continue to drag the film to a grinding halt, so when the inevitable confrontation (finally!) arrives, it’s wrapped up so quickly, it’s a wonder there was any catharsis at all. Alice stitches together an intriguing premise, but ends up weaker than the sum of its parts.