On the surface, Red Handed is the story of three estranged brothers whose trip to spread their dad’s ashes along the supposedly spooky Sazerac River gets derailed by a weird religious cult, lead by their creepy uncle (Michael Biehn in a glorified cameo), that plan to kidnap one of their children and use him in some sort of cheesy satanic ritual.
Beneath that, however, is…nothing. There’s no subtlety, no nuance, no interesting subplots and virtually no scares, thrills or suspense waiting to surprise and delight genre fans throughout its 90-minute running time. Instead, Red Handed, written and directed by Frank Peluso, feels like a disjointed movie collage instead of a fully realized work, as if the crew went in every day with a list of things they had to get on film for the story to get from point A to Point B without a common sense thread to tie it all together beyond that basic story outline. It’s all surface, no substance.
The film gets off to a rocky start introducing us to one of the brothers, Duffy (Christian Madsen), having an uncomfortable conversation with his dad (his real-life dad Michael Madsen in another messy performance). It’s clear that Duffy and Dad don’t like each other, and there are some hints dropped about why the family is so dysfunctional, but the performances are so wooden that the scenes don’t generate an emotional response from the audience. Instead of filling us with anticipation for what will happen next, it leaves us wondering if we really want to hang around to find out.
It’s a pattern that keeps repeating itself for the rest of the movie. You watch something take place, like the moments the brothers first hang out with each other after years of being apart, and while you may feel confused, vaguely interested or vaguely frustrated, you never feel pulled into the deep end of the story.
A big part of the problem is the lack of any empathy being developed for the characters, both good and bad. The three brothers are unlikable, self-centered jerks when the story starts and remain that way throughout. Buddy is such a jerk, for example, he celebrates his wife getting out of rehab by sneaking off to sleep with the first buxom beauty he sees. Just like his dear old dad; literally, since it’s literally the same woman (Caroline Vreeland). It’s hard to be sympathetic with what happens to him after that, or at least the film doesn’t do a good enough job of convincing you that you should be.
Like a lot of genre films, though, such faults would eventually be forgiven if Red Handed delivered a strong enough final act, something special enough to make you forget, or at least forgive, everything else. But it just doesn’t happen. There’s an ending that, like the rest of the movie, might have looked good sketched out on paper, but you can’t imagine what might have been; you have to go with what the director shows you and in this case, it isn’t much. The cult is exposed, but it’s no big surprise. The brothers band together to fight evil, but not in any way that makes you root for them. There’s a bit of bloodshed, but you won’t remember any of the kills when the lights go up.
- John Black, Red Handed