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The Visit

Starring Hill Harper, Rae Dawn Chong, Billy Dee Williams, Marla Gibbs and Phylicia Rashad
Based on the play by Kosmond Russell
Written and Directed by Jordan Walker-Pearlman

IN SHORT: Pass it by. [Rated R for language and some drug content.]

We know we've got a rep for ragging on Film Schools and FilmStudentThink but we'd like to think that we're fair about it. There are certain fundamental teachings, like "show versus tell" that are important. It's a rule usually applied to dialog and it's simple: "Don't tell something when you can show it." Said guidance applies to character development as well. When that simple rule is not observed, you get things like The Visit, the story of prison inmate #263174009 (Hill Harper ), whom his family calls "Alex".

The penitentiary in which Alex lives is built next to a railroad siding. Every night, Alex' mind is on one of the trains he hears, riding far far away from his six by eight cell. Seattle. Vegas. Anywhere. Sentenced to 25 years for a rape he maintains he did not commit, it's been five years since he's had a visit from any member of his family. They have their reasons. Successful older brother Tony (Obba Bababundé) has his own wife, kids and business and his jailed sibling is an embarrassment. Mom and Dad had, at one point, been victims of their own kidlet, who took dad's money clip and mom's jewelry while they slept. Thief, crackhead, smack junkie, Alex is the one bad seed in an otherwise comfortable middle class family. Dad (Billy Dee Williams ) is too strict to openly forgive. Mom (Marla Gibbs) loves her son but her husband rules the roost. And all of this fuels an angry fire deep inside Alex. After an altercation with guards, Alex sits down with prison shrink Dr. Coles ( Phylicia Rashad ) to work on his anger problems. There's a lot to be angry about. Abandonment issues. A pending parole hearing which could easily go against him, due to his behavior. AIDS.

Tony comes to visit. Shortly thereafter his parents. There are bridges to be built. A parole board to face. All of it plays out in conversations, most of them with a table setting the boundary between the free and the incarcerated. There is a ton of emotional junk to be sorted out, waded through and dealt with. Then a childhood acquaintance ( Rae Dawn Chong ) shows up. Again and again and again, to the point where we found ourselves muttering "what is she doing here?"

Writer/director Jordan Walker-Pearlman doesn't bother to show us. The resolution to the conflicts, the therapy, the unexplained visits are explained to us all by one of the characters in a very long speech that wraps up the film. You are all intelligent enough to figure out what that means just as you are also knowledgeable enough in the ways of film to know that family conflict is the richest source of dramatic material. It is not in this case because Walker-Pearlman isn't letting the story tell itself. He spends too much time setting up the basics only to discover that the only way out of the theater in a reasonable amount of time is to dialog the equivalent of end titles that tell you what happened to characters.

We've seen it many times in indie flicks. One person tries to do the job of two or three people and whatever (his) weakest role is drags the entire project down. Such is the case with The Visit.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Visit, he would have paid...


Marla Gibbs, best known for her comedic work on television, gets to strut her dramatic stuff in this movie. She and Billy Dee Williams pair up nicely as the parental units. That's about the high point. Phylicia Rashad doesn't have much to do. Rae Dawn Chong has too much given the non-resolution of her story in dramatic action. Hill Harper is similarly deprived of letting his character resolve his issues.

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