The days when every independent filmmaker worshipped at the altar of Quentin Tarantino are, for the most part, behind us. It’s been long enough that a good old-fashioned ’90s-style ultraviolent crime thriller now seems like a nostalgia trip, orgies of violence and long pans around a dinner table and all. That’s certainly the case for Chicago-born filmmaker Gary Michael Schultz’s sophomore feature, Vincent N Roxxy, which suffers from many of the same shortcomings that plagued tough-talking Tarantino homages in the late ’90s but distinguishes itself with a satisfying climax.
Promotional materials for the film make it sound like a Natural Born Killers-style “criminal lovers on the run” road-trip movie, but most of it actually takes place in the small town where Vincent (Emile Hirsch) grew up. (The film was shot in Louisiana, but the setting is clearly meant to evoke run-down burgs in the rural Midwest.) He meets Roxxy (Zoe Kravitz) seemingly by accident, after witnessing her being attacked by an unknown man after he rams into her car at a traffic light. Vincent, as we come to learn, has a bit of a white knight complex, and takes it upon himself to protect Roxxy by offering her refuge on his family farm.
She initially declines the offer, but soon enough she shows up at the auto body shop Vincent runs with his hoodlum brother J.C. (Emory Cohen), takes up residence in a trailer on their property, and picks up a few shifts at the biker bar where J.C.’s girlfriend Kate (Zoey Deutch) works. That the two will fall in love is a foregone conclusion—why else would their names be in the title?—and it’s no surprise that a secret from Vincent’s criminal past would threaten their fledgling relationship, either. It’s where the film goes after all that that distinguishes it, casting its clichéd characterizations in a new light.
Vincent N Roxxy’s biggest shortcoming is its dialogue, which leans in to crime-movie stereotypes of violent, macho men—“chicks dig scars,” J.C. tells his brother after a bar fight—and street smart, yet ultimately vulnerable women in a way that threatens to subsume its gritty realism in unintentional silliness. Cohen in particular delivers his lines with cringeworthy faux-redneck aplomb, an acting choice that’s extra noticeable alongside Hirsch’s more naturalistic performance. Kravitz splits the difference, staying cool and aloof until circumstances become sufficiently desperate. Along with the profanity-laden dialogue, Schultz pays homage to the tough-guy directors who came before him with extensive use of tracking shots, including one long unbroken shot following Vincent through a house party and another following Roxxy through a drug house.
It all has a certain throwback appeal for those who grew up renting whatever the new Miramax release was that week at their local video store, down to the too-loud soundtrack, sudden eruptions of intense blood splatter, and Kravitz’s leather-and-lace wardrobe. One area where Vincent N Roxxy improves upon its forebears is in the diversity of its casting, hiring black and white actors for roles on both sides of the conflict. That is, as much as there are two sides when everyone on screen is a career criminal longing for a fresh start somewhere, anywhere, far away from this shithole town.