The new independent film "The Peanut Butter Falcon" wants to be a stylish, road-trip adventure, but it goes nowhere fast.
When we meet Zak (Zack Gottsagen), he is a teenage boy with Down syndrome, without a family and being looked after by a senior-home-type care center. He has a dream of becoming a professional wrestler and is obsessed with a VHS tape he has featuring the fictional wrestler, "The Salt Water Redneck" (Thomas Haden Church), who happens to be the boy's hero. With some encouragement from another "inmate" (Bruce Dern, in a bit role), Zak escapes the confounds of his home and with nothing (literally, just in his whitey-tighties), he sets out on the road to find The Redneck in the flesh.
But the boy soon learns that he may not be ready for life in the real world. He encounters a down-and-out crab fisherman named Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), and befriends him, begrudgingly. Tyler has his own problems, with his former boss, Duncan (John Hawkes) hot on his trailer after Tyler deliberately sabotaged Duncan's fishing gear. Also in tow is Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), the nurse at the care center, who is the only person on the planet that really knows Zak and cares about him.
There are some good performances, mainly from LaBeouf and Hawkes, but they're kept in check by a script that just doesn't know what it wants from its characters. While Eleanor and Tyler try to bring out the best in Zak and encourage him to follow his dreams, the movie's tone is actually quite condescending, as it simplifies Zak and his Down syndrome in the same ways that they try to prevent others from doing in the movie. And where this one ends up heading is all wrong. The final scenes border on fantasy, in the same way "The Florida Project" or "Birdman" does, but unlike in those much better films, the transition here is not earned. In fact, once the credits roll you won't feel very good about having spent the last 90 minutes with these characters and receiving such little pay-off.
A shout-out to real-life WWE (formerly WWF) star, Jake "The Snake" Roberts who has a small role in the film, and who just like during his professional career, turns heel on a dime. He's right at home here in "The Peanut Butter Falcon," a place that feels mostly make-believe.
Genre: Adventure, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes.
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal, Yelawolf.
Written & Directed by Tyler Nilson & Mike Schwartz (feature-film debut).
"The Peanut Butter Falcon" opens in limited-release on Friday, August 23rd, 2019.
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