ONE DAY AS A LION Review: Roar All You Want, This Kitty Is Harmless

John Schwab directed; Scott Caan, Marianne Rendón, Frank Grillo, Virginia Madsen, and J.K. Simmons star in the low-key story of a bumbling, would-be assassin, written by Caan.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
ONE DAY AS A LION Review: Roar All You Want, This Kitty Is Harmless

He's not very good at killing people, but he does his best.

One Day as a Lion
Lionsgate will release the film in select theaters on Tuesday, April 4, 2023 and
on Demand and Digital on Friday, April 7, 2023.

Jackie Powers is desperate. He's also not terribly good with a gun.

That makes for a bad combination when he nervously appears at a diner in small-town Oklahoma, U.S., intent on threatening Walter Boggs (J.K. Simmons), who cuts an imposing, menacing figure, even when he's sitting down. Jackie has been sent to collect on a debt owed by Walter, who declines to pay; instead, he pulls out a gun to show that he is dead serious.

Ruffled but not entirely deterred, Jackie pulls out his -- a sad reminder that in this country, there are far too many guns -- and exchanges fire with Walter, with the result that an innocent party is killed and Jackie goes on the run, grabbing the only witness to the murder, Lola Brisky (Marianne Rendón), who most assuredly has her own problems and does not wish to get involved in a comically bad attempt to collect a debt.

Directed by John Schwab, an enterprising young director from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who's made several independent features already, the film is drawn from an original screenplay by Scott Caan, who also plays Jackie Powers. Caan wrote and directed two movies some years ago (Dallas 362, 2003; The Dog Problem, 2006) and scripted another (Mercy, 2009), though this is his first produced screenplay since then.

Writing to his strengths, One Day as a Lion is a comic shaggy dog story that doesn't overstay its welcome, running a tidy 87 minutes, as edited by Andrew Aaronson, and makes good use of its locations, as shot by director of photography Will Stone, both of whom have worked with director John Schwab. The film also makes good use of versatile actors, such as J.K. Simmons and Virginia Madsen, who bring their own particular strengths to their roles.

The story's heartfelt nature is quickly revealed, as Jackie can't help but spill out his motivation for the diner incident: he needs money in order to hire an attorney to get his 15-year-old son Billy (Dash Melrose) out of a juvenile detention center, where he's been locked up for a serious crime the kid claims he didn't commit. The kid's mother, Taylor (Taryn Manning), is no help; she and Jackie have been broken up since forever, and she doesn't put any trust in his ability to help, anyway.

It's a sour situation that's writer Caan gives a spin so that it sits on the edge of comedy, largely thanks to his own performance as the ne-er do well Jackie, who mostly appears to be incompetent, but good-hearted nonetheless. He's trying to do the right thing, but he doesn't know what that is, except that he wants to get his son out from behind bars.

Along the way, he's also ready for a new love, it seems, and he falls quickly for Lola, who rebelled against her wealthy upbringing and is estranged from her mother (Virginia Madsen), who is dying. Still, Lola, a would-be actor, is moved by Jackie's story and volunteers to introduce him to her mother, who may be ready to part with some of her wealth, accumulated from four dead husbands (?!).

Caan and Rendón make for an unlikely pairing, a relationship whose attractions are ill-defined. Even so, we can believe them because they speak with plain sincerity. Frank Grillo adds excellence to his role as Pauly Russo, a menacing gangster from New York who mostly dismisses the bumbling involvement of a minor criminal, such as Jackie, who was brought into the debt-collection business by Paul's junior associate, Dom Lorenzo (George Carroll), another menacing sort who once did time with Jackie.

One Day as a Lion is sufficiently likable to overcome its evident shortcomings and makes for a roughly criminal B-picture.

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Frank GrilloJK SimmonsJohn SchwabLionsgateScott CaanUS

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