First time film director Melina Matsoukas’ ( a prominent music video director) “Queen & Slim” opens with momentary traces of promise which clearly dissipate.
The first sign of trouble emerges when two disparate loners meet on a Tinder date and have dinner in what appears to be a Denny’s cafe.
We meet Slim (Daniel Kaluuya, Oscar nominated for ”Get Out’) who seems to have no discernible occupation, and Queen (played by British model and actress Jodie Turner-Smith), who professes to be a defense attorney, and is upset because her first client has just been executed.
Hoping, we take it, to drown her sorrows in a last-minute online date, Queen toys with her coffee, as Slim chews his scrambled eggs with loud smacks. She will cutely berate him about this again and again. Where is this going?
Slim drives a nice car with a “GOD” license plate; Queen claims to be an atheist. Is there a clue here?
After the Denny’s snack, they go for a drive. While arguing about the music on his radio, he reaches for the dial and accidentally swerves a bit. This catches the attention of a surly (white) cop (Country music star Sturgill Simpson), who stops them. Immediately, director Matsoukas sets up the “driving while black” situation that gets out of hand.
The cop checks Slim’s ID, and then runs through a check list of movie “bad white cop” actions; ordering Slim out of the car, making him open the trunk, then nitpicks about it’s contents and snaps at Slim who is being super polite.
When Slim gets a bit irritated, the cop orders him to get on his knees with his hands on head. Where is this going? Straight, we imagine, to the set up that will run the rest of the film.
Queen makes her second mistake, the first being the date. She gets out of the car and screams. “I am his attorney.” This irritates the cop so much, he shoots Queen in her leg.
Slim grabs the cop and they tussle.
Now, Slim, laying on his back, has the gun, and as the cop tries to grab it back, Slim panics and shoots him. Cop is dead. The cop’s car camera copied the whole incident, and would have cleared the couple, but shows black man holding gun. Where is this going? We’re thinking straight to contrivance Hell.
Queen and Slim, bound by studio contract to stick to writer Lena Waithe’s script, ask one another, “What are we going to do?”
Defense attorney (Ed’s Law School?) Queen, who just lost her client to the chair and is sour on the law, posits the theory that no one will believe them, and that the only solution is to leave the dead cop and run. Really? Where is this going?
Matsoukas takes us on a long (2 hours, 15 minutes) journey from Ohio, through Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky, down to New Orleans where Queen keeps an uncle in case things like this happen.
Luckily, Uncle (the always wonderful Bokeem Woodbine) is a drug king and fur coated pimp who devises a plan to get them out of the country.
Next they are led to a landing strip in Florida, and a waiting Cessna to take them away.
Matsoukas’ film, written by Lena Waithe (“The Chi”) is littered with helpful people along the way (the talented Chloë Sevigny in yet another wasted cameo) and Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) to assist the kids who, thanks to the press, have become international symbols of white oppression.
After 2 hrs and 15 minutes of missed opportunities, long car ride conversations and a sweaty back seat sex scene, we come to the airstrip, headed for Cuba, we hoped, as they did. But eight cop cars are waiting in the bushes. This is where it has been going.
The last shot is one of a huge mural of these two beleaguered kids, mounted on an inner city wall, placing them in history, we assume, along side Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Medgar Evers.
Unlike those great Americans, I’m sure Ms. Matsoukas will get another chance.
J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.