Writer-director Tricia Brock springs a few pleasant surprises while tilling familiar ground in “Killer Diller,” her promising debut feature about a guitar-playing car thief who transforms a spiritless gospel group into a kick-ass blues band. Indie comedy-drama could click in limited theatrical run, but will play better as cable and homevid fare.
Twentysomething Wesley Benfield (William Lee Scott) is busted during a bar fight in small-town Missouri and then found to be driving a stolen car. He’s sent to a halfway house on a Baptist college campus. Supposed to reform himself while performing with a gospel ensemble, Wesley yearns to play the blues. He meets Vernon Jackson (Lucas Black), an autistic who’s a prodigious pianist, and, with his help, Wesley inspires fellow halfway house gospel ensemble to slip away for blues concerts at a local honky-tonk. Premise is formulaic and execution is predictable, but Brock maintains a lively pace while eliciting first-rate work from thesps. W. Earl Brown (as Vernon’s crude yet loving father) and Fred Willard (as halfway house supervisor) are standouts for transforming potentially cartoonish stereotypes into flesh-and-blood human beings. Performances by gospel/blues musicians are persuasively rough-edged.