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‘Showdown at the Grand’ (review)

Showdown at the Grand is about the power of movies to give our lives mythological meaning and the joy of finding your niche of particular, secret, joy in a world of mass produced homogeneity.

It is a meta-action-comedy about a picture house beset by the kind of villains it’s B-movie heroes would have slayed on screen at the exact moment it is hosting one of those heroes in a wish fulfillment for people who want to share their love of whatever it is they love with respect.

Terence Howard (Iron Man) plays George Fuller, the proprietor of a revival moviehouse, the Warner-Grand, in the American Southwest.

He is a man who grew up in, and subsequently gave his life to, the movie business only to watch it slowly implode over time and now wonders how he can even make sense of the world without it. As new employee Spike (Piper Curda) says, he’s “got nowhere else to go.” He can’t even handle trouble with a couple punks in the real world without reflexive references to Apocalypse Now or Dirty Harry.

Howard’s performance amiably slides between delusion and justified pride at the oasis he’s carved out for cinema in a world that seems to have no use for it, and when he’s beset by land developers who feel ripped right from films like RoboCop or Mr. Majestyk there’s almost a relief coloring the grim determination because at the very least he’s dealing with a problem the movies have prepared him for.

Fuller’s plan to help the Warner-Grand survive the trouble it’s found itself in is a film festival starring grindhouse action legend Claude-Luc Hallyday (Dolph Lundgren) which will be attended by the reclusive and embittered action movie star himself.

Lundgren is having easy fun with his own career here and a highlight of the film are the cutaways to various faux action movies he did through his career interspersed throughout. It’s a meta-performance that recalls Jean Claude Van Damme’s work in JCVD though it’s not nearly as interested in dragging its star’s real demons into the light as that picture was.

The action set pieces of Showdown and the direction is competent, I particularly enjoy the homage to the Lone Wolf and Cub film at the end even if it does feel derivative after Tarantino’s Kill Bill not only mined much of the same cinematic influence but with a similar warm nostalgic attitude and metatextual energy.

I normally do not return to that film every time a director includes a katana fight, but here the grindhouse revival energy and snark humor make it difficult to not see it as somewhat derivative.

What will stick with me was the care and love put into presenting the titular Grand as a cathedral to movies and how that scratches the itch of a fantasy that I think all movie buffs have had and particularly enjoy now. In this world of innumerable streaming services and studios cranking out quarterly franchise spectacles it’s hard not to long not only for the films that made us fall in love with film in the first place, but for a place where that longing can be synthesized and combined– where we all belong and where the things we like are the norm and not the niche. “This place should be treated like a Church” one character intones.

That’s because what we’re to derive from the theater isn’t so different from what we get from Church: a set of stories that coalesce around a way of living life, of seeing the world, that we share with a community of belief.

That’s the magic at the center of Showdown at the Grand and why it’s worth a look.


*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Christian de Gallegos, Mira Pak Howard, Michael Benaroya
Written and Directed by Orson Oblowitz
Starring Terrence Howard, John Savage, Piper Curda, Amanda Righetti, Dolph Lundgren 

Showdown at The Grand is now playing in theaters
and is available On Demand and Digital HD


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