By: Henry J. Fromage (Five Beers) –
Last year introduced me to a beautiful new category of hilariously bad film- the John Travolta Vanity Project. In both Gotti and Speed Kills, the 65 year old Travolta plays a 30 year old for at least a portion of the runtime, and it’s glorious. At one point in Speed Kills, the camera awkwardly pans up from a set of chiseled abs to Travolta’s face. It’s glorious.
Very possibly my favorite movie last year if I’m being truly honest with myself.
Trading Paint, like Speed Kills, stars Travolta as a racer of very fast vehicles, here dirt-track racing cards vs the latter’s speedboats. Unfortunately for me, he’s an aging legend of the dirt track whose son (Tony Sebastian) jumps ship to the team of his old rival (Michael Madsen) to get the chance to race the newest and best. Travolta’s stuck with his old car, all of his elbow grease, and a budding romance with Shania Twain to seek victory, or familial reconciliation, or something.
First time feature director Karzan Kader has an inspirational story of his own, fleeing with his family during the first Iraq War to Sweden and enrolling in film school there, now getting this chance based on well-received short film and adapted feature Bekas from six years ago. He demonstrates here that he has the visual polish to keep getting chances in Hollywood- here’s hoping he got some good networking in on this one.
It’s not really clear what anyone’s connection to this particular story set in this hyper-specific place and culture is, however, which probably explains why it’s such a damn generic Country music song of a plot. This is a story that you can predict every beat of, at least until it stops even caring about the general plot beats of a sports movie and just kind of ends.
The purported selling point of the film, the dirt-track racing angle, is fairly meh (it’s an awful small track), so for every one of the several races there’s a couple of never-seen and quite possibly added in post racetrack announcers that do their damndest to enliven things to little-to-no avail. You can’t really tell what good driving vs bad driving is, and the linchpin seems to be having the most powerful car which Travolta scores out of left field late in the film, so that selling point is pretty well squandered.
The main conflict of the film is set up to be the rivalry between Travolta and his still-racing nemesis Madsen, but outside of some surprisingly low-energy villainry there’s little to no stakes at any given point of the film. Travolta doesn’t even drive in the last race for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Isn’t he going for the points championship or something? If he doesn’t race, doesn’t Madsen actually win overall?
The good stuff- the Southern, Red State dress-up and John Travolta’s abiding vanity as promised by the “is that Ben Affleck?” poster- just isn’t bad enough to make this the kind of funny I was looking for, nor good enough to be anything but exactly what you’d think it is- a Southern-fried Hallmark movie made by a bunch of carpetbaggers.
So much promise.
Trading Paint isn’t quite the John Travolta vanity of hilarious proportions project I was hoping for, but rather an run of the mill “Southern Soap Opera”.
Trading Paint (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every down home good ‘ol boy cliche
Take a Drink: for every race
Take a Drink: whenever Michael Madsen vamps in an attempt to add some conflict
Do a Shot: whenever Travolta tells a homespun story about his past