Combustible Celluloid
With: Caylee Cowan, Billy Budinich, Johnathon Schaech, Donna D'Errico, Kevin Dillon, Lin Shaye, Sonya Eddy, Brian Maillard, Charley Koontz, Sydney Scotia, Jade Lorna Sullivan, Sean Patrick Flanery
Written by: Sean Patrick Flanery
Directed by: Sean Patrick Flanery
MPAA Rating: R for strong violent content, sexual content, brief nudity, language throughout, sexual assault and some drug use
Running Time: 103
Date: 06/03/2022

Frank and Penelope (2022)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Love Quarry

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As much as we might want to root for the titular couple to find true love, the world they occupy is so callous and brutal — and so primitive — that hope soon fades and a feeling of disgust creeps in.

Mild-mannered Frank (Billy Budinich) arrives home to surprise his wife and finds her with another man. He leaves, and finds himself at a strip club, where Penelope (Caylee Cowan) gives him a dance. He feels a strong, instant connection and asks her to run away with him. She agrees, leaving her boss (Sean Patrick Flanery) in a vengeance-seeking mood. Frank trades in his Prius for a classic Dodge Super Bee, and they hit the road.

They roll into the town of Quicksilver and check into a motel for the night, where proprietor Cleve (Brian Maillard) invites them for free drinks at the Table of Truth. There they meet Chisos (Johnathon Schaech), a charismatic, but sinister figure. Before long Frank and Penelope are prisoners, destined to be sacrificed for the purposes of an evil cult. Can they escape and find freedom together?

In debt to many 1990s movies, especially the Quentin Tarantino-written True Romance and From Dusk Till Dawn, Frank and Penelope doesn't seem to have been able to maintain any semblance of reason or awareness of the 2010s. Violence is swift and without repercussions, and women are objects of lust. Penelope is a cookie cutter version of Patricia Arquette's "Alabama" from True Romance, and while it's fun to hear the way she musically coos her dialogue in her soft Southern accent, her value system is based on how much "rage" a man expresses over her.

Frank make a super-fast 180-degree switch from being a cautious doormat to an Elvis-type rebel (or, perhaps Nicolas Cage's "Sailor" from Wild at Heart), and he, likewise, takes to violence pretty fast. The idea of ordinary folks rolling into an ordinary-looking rest-stop where evil lurks is nothing new (see From Dusk Till Dawn). But the villains are nasty, and they even seem nasty to each other, constantly scowling and arguing with one another. They're a religious cult, preaching certain values, but flagrantly violating those values. They're so cartoony that they barely pose a threat.

In True Romance, we believed that Alabama and Clarence would be happy forever, but in the dystopia of Frank and Penelope, it's hard to feel anything at all.

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