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‘End of the Road’ Review: Queen Latifah and Ludacris Take a Detour in Lackluster Netflix Thriller

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When you’re bringing together two outsized personalities like Queen Latifah and Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges for a family car trip deep into redneck territory, the least you could try to do is make it a little funny. But the Netflix feature End of the Road plays things more or less straight, eschewing comedy for a run-of-the-mill thriller that winds up being neither original nor particularly thrilling.

Directed by TV veteran Millicent Shelton (30 Rock, Black-ish, Jessica Jones and many other shows), the feature heads to familiar places despite focusing on a Black family caught in a dangerous white world of drugs, guns, bigotry and violence. There’s definitely some gas in its tank in the opening sections, which are somewhat promising, but then the story takes a predictable route that fails to deliver enough suspense or interest to go the full distance.

End of the Road

The Bottom Line

More like middle-of-the-road.

Release date: Friday, Sep. 9 (Netflix)
Cast: Queen Latifah, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Beau Bridges, Michael Faith Lee, Shaun Dixon, Frances Lee McCain
Director: Millicent Shelton
Screenwriters: Christopher J. Moore, David Loughery

Rated R, 1 hour 29 minutes

What gives End of the Road some potential early on is its setup: Brenda (Latifah) is a recently widowed mother who can no longer afford life in Los Angeles. So she packs up the minivan with her two kids, Kelly (Mychala Faith Lee) and Cam (Shaun Dixon), and her pothead younger brother, Reggie (Bridges), to move to her mother’s place in Houston.

If you look on a map, you’ll see that such a drive will take Brenda and her family through plenty of desert and at least one state (Texas) that voted red in the last presidential election. Shelton and writers Christopher Moore and David Loughery milk that premise for all it’s worth — perhaps never better than in an early scene where Brenda faces off, and wisely stands down, against a pair of honky-tonk racists who try to block her path.

After that, End of the Road gets both serious and seriously silly when the family runs into a drug deal gone sour, leaving them with a stolen bag of loot (thanks to Reggie) and nowhere to hide. Enter Beau Bridges, playing a sheriff who’s been teleported into the movie from reruns of either The Dukes of Hazzard or Smokey and the Banditand who joins a collection of unsavory locals that also includes a meth-head (Tabatha Shaun) and a skinhead (Keith Jardine).

With Latifah and Bridges at the wheel much of this could have been played for laughs, upending a boilerplate scenario in a clever, Jordan Peele kind of way while mocking all the southern bigotry. Instead, the filmmakers try to inject pathos into a formula that probably could’ve used much less of it. When Reggie says, “Maybe I’m just an assistant manager at Chick-fil-A, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own dreams too!” in all earnestness, you’ve got to imagine even Ludacris found that line a bit funny.

Like the writing, the directing is serviceable, with the leads doing their best with what feels like subpar material. The action sequences tend to lack verve and the locations — a roadside motel, a diner, a trailer park, a creepy country home with a dungeon — seem to have been chosen from a B-movie rolodex. Scoring is omnipresent but fails to bring additional thrills.

This, by the way, doesn’t mean that End of the Road is unwatchable, and if you’re looking for something quick and easy with some expected twists, it serves its purpose. It’s sort of like programming your GPS before a long drive — you always know where you’re going, all the time.

Full credits

Production companies: Edmonds Entertainment, Mark Burg Productions
Distributor: Netflix
Cast: Queen Latifah, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Beau Bridges, Michael Faith Lee, Shaun Dixon, Frances Lee McCain
Director: Millicent Shelton
Screenwriters: Christopher J. Moore, David Loughery
Producers: Tracey E. Edmonds, Mark Burg, Brad Kaplan
Executive producers: Queen Latifah, Shakim Compere, Ben Pugh, Erica Steinberg, Daniel Jason Heffner
Director of photography: Ed Wu
Production designer: Lucia Seixas
Costume designer: Rahimah Yoba
Editor: Tirsa Hackshaw
Composer: Craig DeLeon
Casting director: Kim Coleman

Rated R, 1 hour 29 minutes



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