Directed By: Barry Odom
Starring: Kelly Bryant, Jordan Elliott, Cameron Wilkins, Kam Scott
Synopsis: The Missouri Tigers square off against the Commodores of Vanderbilt to find a road win... and that’s about where this thing goes off the rails.
When it comes to film, there’s almost nothing worse than a bad sequel to a good original.
The 2019 year has been Barry Odom’s most promising as a young director. He’s had hits in the past, but at no point in his career has he had such a talented, hard-working cast and crew. The Tigers ran their hot streak up to five... and that’s where Dead Man’s Effort comes into play. While the features preceding it were fun (if flawed) rewatchables, Odom’s latest is a bomb.
Set in the soggy, barren wasteland of Vanderbilt Stadium, Dead Man’s Effort pits the Tigers up against the Commodores (whom the Tigers have bested in glorious fashion before) in the search for an elusive win — on the road for Missouri and a win of any variety for Derek Mason’s sailors. I could spend more time on the plot, but it’s hard to when everything is so... muddled. You forget there are even Commodores present — that’s how bad the Tigers are! They’re tragically, almost comically, bad.
From the beginning, the plot doesn’t make any sense. Coming off of several dynamic performances, stars like Kelly Bryant, Larry Rountree III, and Nick Bolton can’t seem to find any of the magic that worked in previous efforts. It would be worse if they were clearly washed up, but the Tigers’ stars seemed to be hitting their strides in their latest films. Clearly, they are not immune to some truly heinous performances.
The performances have a lot to do with it, but it’s hard not to blame assistant directors Ryan Walters and Derek Dooley for creating a feature as dull as this one is. It would be one thing if it were packed with action from frame to frame and still came out bad. At least then you know there’s an effort being made. But Dead Man’s Effort just looks bad. There’s no fight, no fire and no pick-me-ups in the middle of the story that get everything going again. Sure, there are moments that give you hope for the ending, but nothing ever sticks. It’s almost like the two thought they had this one in the bag after their good run of work recently. As it turns out, Dooley and Walters cannot phone anything in without paying the consequences.
Also, I have to ask — what’s up with the villain? Derek Mason — a former football player turned lame duck, coaching a team that has limped through the rough seas of the SEC — is scary in theory, but when you get a good look at him and his work, he seems awfully silly. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to be intimidated of him, but for some reason the plot of the movie is always turning in his direction. It’s almost absurd to the point of comedy... almost.
There’s no doubting, though, where the blame squarely falls for this disaster — director Barry Odom. There’s always been a healthy amount of skepticism regarding Odom’s skills as the head, though it almost seemed as if those days were behind him. He has this interesting talent to motivate his crew and draw out good performances when it’s not expected. However, once success hits and the Tigers have a chance to make something really special, it all falls apart again.
That’s not entirely on the director — main players still need to give good performances, assistant directors need to plan well and make things look good. But there are too many foundational negatives (why does the game divert into a punt-fest right in the middle? why are there so many self-defeating errors? where’s the charismatic Kelly Bryant and what did you do with him?!) to let Odom off scot-free. Much like Wild Wild West, this fiasco can be traced back to poor planning, preparation and execution. As the head of the feature, it’s Odom’s job to see that everything is good to go for audiences. Clearly this wasn’t the case on Saturday, as Tigers of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Effort is about as flat and dry as a Texas summer.
And so, as the Tigers find themselves recovering (once again) from a disastrous feature, it’s easy to see how all the good momentum they’d built up in the box office could quickly be washed away. Audiences may be fickle at times, but their eyes don’t deceive them in the moment. Good performances are easy to spot, but bad ones are easier. Odom and his crew may yet recover to direct another slew of blockbuster hits, just like the ones that came before Dead Man’s Effort. But there’s no doubt about it — this dud will be hard to wash off his record, and audiences may want to stay away until they see a little more proof that his success can be sustained.