An old-fashioned — and rather creaky — weird tale, “The Grave” is a mildly diverting yarn of the ilk told on dark nights at summer camp. Debuting in a midnight slot at the Sundance fest, the film has only modest theatrical prospects. Despite a decent cast and solid production values, the material is too thin to sustain rapt audience attention and will be better served on video and in cable outlets.
Bolstering its campfire nature, story unfolds as one inmate tells another of the strange saga known as “The Grave.” It happened two years earlier at a North Carolina prison farm when one detainee attempted to enlist two men in a prison break. The carrot was a treasure buried with a wealthy, tight-fisted merchant.
King (Craig Sheffer) and Tyn(Josh Charles) bite hard, bribing a guard to effect an escape and leaving the bearer of the news behind bars. The fugitives’ path to the loot, naturally, takes several sharp turns. Tyn is shot stealing clothes from a wash line, and the twosome wind up reluctantly involving old cronies and King’s former girlfriend (Gabrielle Anwar) in the pursuit. The bribed guard also pops up to complicate the issue of sharing the spoils.
The patchwork script pilfers from dozens of movies and comic books without finding a unique style or attitude. Director Jonas Pate paces the action with a laid-back cadence for no better reason than to stretch the script to feature length. The plot itself is too conventional to sustain more than a television hour.
The strong cast can do little to prop up essentially filigree fare. There’s scant opportunity for nuance, so most actors here focus on making their characterizations colorful while adopting an accent learned at the Jim Varney School of Elocution. While pic has an overall polish, the visuals and music lack texture.
Third act descends into gimmicks and plot twists that muddle rather than crystallize the legendary “Grave” tale. The framing story provides a narrative dead end. It’s all shaggy-dog fare better related live, with embers, than on celluloid.