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Killer Diller

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.

With:
With: William Lee Scott, Lucas Black, Fred Willard, John Michael Higgins, W. Earl Brown, Robert Wisdom, Ashley Johnson, Niki J. Crawford, Mary Kay Place, Taj Mahal.

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.

Killer Diller

Production: A Bulwark Entertainment production. Produced by Jason Clark, Steve Espinosa, Cary McNair. Directed, written by Tricia Brock, based on the novel by Clyde Edgerton.

Crew: Camera (FotoKem color), Matthew Jensen; editor, Tom McArdle; music, Tree Adams, production designer, Ben Woolverton. Reviewed at South by Southwest Film Festival (Special Screenings), Austin, Texas, March 16, 2004. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: With: William Lee Scott, Lucas Black, Fred Willard, John Michael Higgins, W. Earl Brown, Robert Wisdom, Ashley Johnson, Niki J. Crawford, Mary Kay Place, Taj Mahal.

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