Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Swing Lowe Sweet Chariote (premieres June 24th at Digiplex Solon Cinema 16)

[SWING LOWE SWEET CHARIOTE premieres Monday June 24 th at 7:00 pm at Digiplex Solon Cinema 16. Red carpet festivities begin at 6:30 pm.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

Chariote (Phillia Thomas) is a smart young black girl living on Cleveland's East Side. She's managed to overcome her rough early years with a good-for-nothing mom (Melissa Thorne) thanks to the love and care of her grandmother (Tammi Swails). Now she and her two best friends Lily (Chanel Lewis) and Shannon (Carla Macon) are about to graduate high school, with Chariote setting her sights on a law degree. But if Chariote gives in to the romantic advances of neighborhood drug dealer Ace (Hakeem Sharif), she may wind up needing a lawyer herself long before she has a chance to become one. Or maybe even worse.

Starting out not unlike a gender switched BOYZ IN THE HOOD set in Cleveland, at about the thirty minute mark SWING LOWE SWEET CHARIOTE begins to morph into something more along the lines of a gender switched BLACK CAESAR. Which actually isn't a bad idea for an urban crime drama, really. But Chariote feels like such a believable character, and the movie is so filled with authentic detail, that it in a way it's harder to buy when the movie shifts gears into urban action territory than if the film had started off with a more generic opening. Both Thomas and Sharif do good work in the lead roles, but they still can't sell us on the idea that Chariote would throw away a bright future for a guy she never seems to really like. It's actually more believable, given her smarts, when she starts to become the power behind the throne in Ace's drug business.

SWING LOWE is a true low budget indie film as opposed to the $20 million productions Hollywood considers low budget. None of which is to say the film looks cheap; in fact, in terms of production values and cinematography it's quite professional, certainly on a par with the average drive-in and exploitation movie of the seventies and early eighties but with a more contemporary style. Where the budget really starts to show is in the mixed bag casting. Like I said, the two leads are good, but the supporting cast is all over the map, with Michael Chastain's over the top performance as a “Mr. Big” type probably the nadir (although it certainly does make an impression).

So yeah, the potential was here for something a little more, and a few performances are rough around the edges. In the end, though, the film does entertain, and even if the more serious themes take a back seat to the action, they're still present enough to register. And on top of all that, you'd be hard pressed to find a movie that's more Cleveland than this one: It's based on a novel by Clevelander Stella Hall, written for the screen and directed by Clevelander David C. Snyder, shot in Cleveland (unless you're one of those people who never leaves the west side, you'll recognize plenty of locations), and has a cast consisting mostly of Clevelanders (Public Enemy frontman Chuck D being a notable exception).And hey, at least this movie didn't make its hometown cranky by causing any traffic jams while it was being made. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.

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