Eclectic to a fault, "The Mummy an' the Armadillo" comes off as an ungainly mix of Tennessee Williams, "The Petrified Forest," Southwestern Gothic and B-movie horror thriller. Helmer J.S. Cardone gets fine performances from cast of vets and up-and-comers. Overall, cable-ready indie effort is stage-bound and transparently contrived.

Eclectic to a fault, “The Mummy an’ the Armadillo” comes off as an ungainly mix of Tennessee Williams, “The Petrified Forest,” Southwestern Gothic and B-movie horror thriller. Adapting his own play, helmer J.S. Cardone (“The Forsaken,” “Outside Ozona”) gets generally fine performances from cast of seasoned vets and up-and-comers. Overall, however, cable-ready indie effort is hopelessly stage-bound and transparently contrived, with several melodramatic scenes edging perilously close to campy excess. Vidstore bargain bins and late-night TV timeslots await.

It is, quite literally, a dark and stormy night in the Arizona desert when Sarah (Clare Kramer), a skittish stranger, stops at the Armadillo, a ramshackle cafe on Route 66. After casting a few nervous glances at the eatery’s display of roadside attractions — semi-fossilized human remains (the “mummy” of the title) and various stuffed animals — she warily converses with Billie (Lori Heuring), the Armadillo’s beautiful yet sullen waitress-proprietor.

Billie is more than a little mistrustful of Sarah, and rightly suspects the visitor has a hidden agenda. But that doesn’t stop her from borrowing Sarah’s car so she can go run an errand. Sarah remains at the cafe — but doesn’t remain alone for long.

For the remainder of the pic, Sarah spends most of her time bound to a chair while terrorized and interrogated by Billie’s drawling, boozing mother (Betty Buckley) and borderline psycho brother (Johnathon Schaech). Hints are dropped, threats are shouted, knives are drawn, secrets are revealed — and, thanks to some colorful supporting characters who drop by the Armadillo, scenes are stolen.

Busy Philipps is a hoot as a slatternly good-time girl who sticks around just long enough to describe a wild ride with a rodeo star. Brad Renfro makes a strong impression by deftly underplaying Wyatte, a mentally challenged offspring who’s very protective of his mother. Jodi Lyn O’Keefe earns a few chuckles as a Goth chick on her way to a Marilyn Manson concert.

With the invaluable assistance of lenser Kurt Brabbee and editor Amanda I. Kirpaul, Cardone employs arresting visual stratagems to propel narrative momentum. Even so, he’s unable to dispel the impression that his predictable and derivative script is chockfull of elements well past their expiration date.

The Mummy an' the Armadillo

Production

A Sandstorm Entertainment presentation in association with First Light Films, Motor Pictures and Valencia Entertainment of a Sandstorm Films production. Produced by Carol Kottenbrook, Scott Einbinder. Executive producers, Derrick R.E. Doba, William E. Cook. Co-producer, Dylan Tarason. Directed, written by J.S. Cardone, based on his play.

Crew

Camera (FotoKem color), Kurt Brabbee; editor, Amanda I. Kirpaul; music, Johnny Lee Schell; production designer, Martina Buckley; set decorator, Chanida Trueblood; costume designer, Kristen Anacker; sound (Dolby Digital), George Burton Goen II; casting, Ferne Cassel. Reviewed on videocassette, Houston, May 1, 2004. (In WorldFest/Houston Film Festival.) Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Let - Betty Buckley Billie - Lori Heuring Sarah - Clare Kramer Carol Ann - Busy Philipps Wyatte - Brad Renfro Jesse - Johnathon Schaech Jackie - Jodi Lyn O'Keefe Temple - Wade Williams Bevers - Amanda Aday
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