A bond forged by violence threatens to be broken by same in “Vincent N Roxxy,” a lovers-on-the-lam thriller that reflects and recycles a long history of Bonnie-and-Clyde love stories where the American road doesn’t stretch far enough to stave off the inevitable. Writer-director Gary Michael Schultz attempts his own twist on this familiar tale by starting with two strangers united by happenstance and staging a slow-burn romance in a rural backwater in Louisiana. But genre clichés catch up with Schultz just as surely as the past catches up with his characters and the sweet, redemptive possibilities of their relationship gets washed away in the tide of gratuitous bloodshed. Quietly appealing lead performances by Emile Hirsch and Zoe Kravitz do much to keep the mayhem at bay, but the film seems destined for the home-video obscurity that met many ’90s genre indies that trailed in Quentin Tarantino’s wake.
Schultz’s keen sense of place, supported by Alex Disenhof’s superb lensing, goes a long way toward situating “Vincent N Roxxy” in the real blight of the American South. From a depressed stretch of road in Baton Rouge to a roughneck bar in some remote, ill-tended corner of the state, the film takes place in territories where any hope for prosperity comes by the barrel of the gun. Schultz wastes no time establishing the violence that will come to define his film, even in those blissful moments when his characters succeed in wriggling away from it for a while. His meet-cute is a meet-doom.
“Vincent N Roxxy” opens with an act of heroism that proves to be more ambiguous than it seems. When Vincent (Hirsch) saves Roxxy (Kravitz) from a car wreck that was anything but accidental, the two strangers leave the body of Roxxy’s attacker behind and peel away to safety. Before dropping her off at the bus station, Vincent extends an open invitation for Roxxy to stay at his family farm to recuperate and figure out her next steps. She eventually takes him up on his offer, but not before Vincent acclimates himself to his old home, making amends with his screw-up brother J.C. (Emory Cohen) and helping him to convert a dilapidated garage into a flourishing auto shop.
When Roxxy does finally arrive, the setup initially seems beneficial to everyone. Roxxy gets set up in a trailer home out in the yard, J.C.’s girlfriend Kate (Zoey Deutch) gets her a part-time bartending job, and she and Vincent have a tender rapport that develops into something more substantial. But a lasting peace proves elusive. J.C.’s beef with a gang of local toughs over Kate escalates from a shoving match to increasingly more drastic forms of retaliation, and the truth about Vincent and Roxxy’s past threatens to consume them all.
“Vincent N Roxxy” does best when the threat of violence is more localized and specific, like the possibility of petty jealousy over an ex-girlfriend getting stoked into the type of action that all parties will come to regret. Schultz has a strong feel for the limits and modest pleasures of living in a dead-end town where the stakes are low and the cash from car repairs and bar tips is enough to drink the night away harmlessly. There’s a better, more realistic film nestled in the middle about love and redemption between two damaged souls and the difficulty of escaping the brutality that has defined their lives.
But that’s not the film “Vincent N Roxxy” ultimately becomes. The orgiastic bloodletting in the third act seems piped in from the grindhouse, which wouldn’t be as much of a problem if it weren’t attached to a film that had been playing it more low key. Characters that had once seemed recognizably human are instead reduced to grim instruments of death and destruction, as if detached from themselves. It’s hard not to become detached, too, from a film that’s not as serious and thoughtful as it once appeared to be.