Writer-director Usher Morgan makes his feature debut with an earnest but disorganized attempt at a neo-western noir, Pickings, in the vein of an even lower-budget Sin City. Starring Elyse Price as Jo Lee-Haywood, a mother and bar owner, the film tells the story of a family getting shaken down by mob thugs who don’t know that Jo’s descended from a family of lady outlaws — and that she’s packing heat.
The premise is classic exploitation, and Morgan’s affection for his genre is evident in his visual style, which melds comic-book illustrations with live-action performances. One mob character, Sam Barone (Yaron Urbas), is even depicted in black and white, while the others remain in saturated full color. But what should feel like a cohesive feature comes off as a series of individual shorts or a collection of scenes strung together. At multiple points in the film, I found myself asking, “Why didn’t the movie start here?”
Morgan savors his Tarantino moments of lady vengeance toying with the bad guys and making them squirm, which seems the only impetus for his beginning the movie with one such scene that doesn’t sufficiently build character or narrative momentum enough to warrant its placement. (It does offer a nice blood splatter.) It’s also not evident at what point in time this scene is taking place — the multiple switches from past to present prove difficult to decipher. I wish Morgan had put as much care into the script as he did into his inventive, illustrative style.
Written and directed by Usher Morgan
Dark Passage Films
Opens March 2, AMC Empire 25 and Film Noir Cinema, Brooklyn