Combustible Celluloid
With: Johnny Whitworth, Zazie Beetz, Afton Williamson, Maurice McRae, Larry Pine, Jeremy Holm, Gia Crovatin, Danny Johnson, Justiin A. Davis, Rupert Simonian, Leopold Manswell, Steven Hauck, Lou Martini Jr., Tibor Feldman
Written by: Vlad Feier, Peter Gutter
Directed by: Vlad Feier
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 99
Date: 08/28/2020

Still Here (2020)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Gone Patrol

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

While some facets of Still Here feel rather tone-deaf, others are certainly spot-on, and the finished product, while not a particularly good mystery, at least becomes a decent, earnest social drama.

A young Black girl, Monique Watson, has gone missing. Her distraught father Michael (Maurice McRae) does everything he can, putting up flyers and doing his best to keep hoping, but knowing that police don't care about the misfortunes of a Black family. Star reporter Christian Baker (Johnny Whitworth) for the Chronicle is assigned to the case, and he discovers that a cab driver suddenly disappeared the same day as Monique.

Christian's hunch turns out to be wrong, but it gets police detectives Spaulding (Jeremy Holm) and Evans (Danny Johnson) back on the case. Hoping to put things right, Christian continues to investigate, finally finding his first useful clue after speaking to Keysha (Zazie Beetz). But is it too late to save Monique?

A feature directing debut by Vlad Feier, Still Here relies on multiple characters, with varied success. Perhaps the most troubling is Christian Baker, who seems to be channelling Kurt Russell with his amazing hair and his raspy murmuring delivery, and who seems remarkably clueless when it comes to communicating with the Black characters. (He could be considered a "white savior.") Later, he writes about "kindness," which is a great message, but he himself doesn't seem to have expressed any.

Detective Spaulding, a white, is shown being a good father and comfortable with his Black partner, but also horribly racist and violent when dealing with Black suspects. (He's also given a strangely out-of-place bit of dialogue, questioning the rightness of the job.) Fortunately, the Watson family seems fairly positive, a loving family, proud, but not naïve about the realities of their world.

Despite some wobbly camerawork and awkward montages, the story itself is competently told, though it loses suspense by not introducing all the key characters early. (Zazie Beetz has only one scene, late in the film.) The acting is fine across the board. At best, Still Here could perhaps stimulate good conversations with the sober, sincere way it delivers its message.

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