The creators of Deadline (PG-13) deserve less credit for making the movie than how they're selling it. In terms of cinematic quality it's nothing special; rudimentary production values, predictable drama and forced performances, except for an entertaining country ham turn by B-movie king Eric Roberts.
Deadline would head directly to home video like most of Roberts' movies, if not for a savvy marketing campaign. The plot involves a reporter solving a cold case, a racially motivated murder, so producers go city to city encouraging newspaper sponsorship of $25-per-ticket premieres benefiting local charities. (The Times declined sponsoring a recent Tampa event.)
Good ballyhoo, mediocre movie.
Steve Talley plays Matt Harper, a Nashville Times reporter reminded by debutante Trey Hall (Lauren Jenkins) that the killer of a young African-American 19 years earlier hasn't been caught. Steve sets aside personal issues — failing romance, father with cancer, a clueless publisher — to rattle a rural town's skeletons and uncover the truth. Nothing that we haven't seen before and edgier in A Time to Kill and Ghosts of Mississippi, or any number of cable TV flicks.
For extra grass roots appeal, director Curt Hahn and screenwriter Mark Etheridge (adapting his novel) add a minor faith-based subtext. Deadline begins with a shot of a church steeple where the minister (Darryl Van Leer) preaches before a large crucifix carved from a lynching tree. The prop's clunky introduction guarantees its encore at an appropriately uplifting juncture, right after the obligatory courtroom scene. C
Steve Persall, Times movie critic