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movie review by derrick ferguson: returned

RETURNED 

Produced and Directed by Lamont Gant
Story by Lamont Gant/Victoria Marie/Marlon McCaulsky

I’m going to get to the review of RETURNED in a couple of paragraphs, I promise. But I need to go back a bit before I can go forward. There’s a point I’m attempting to make so hang loose for a few ticks of time, okay?

In 1979, Paramount released “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” It cost them $46 million to make and while the movie more than made its money back the studio was not happy with the eventual return on their investment. They did greenlight a sequel: “The Wrath of Khan” which cost them only $11 million to make and the movie turned out to be such a monstrous hit with fans and critics it also made Paramount enough money to make Scrooge McDuck jealous. 35 years and 11 movies later it is still acknowledged as being the best “Star Trek” movie.

The point I’m trying to make? It’s that science fiction movies shouldn’t depend on their special effects. The special effects are there to support and enhance the story. Story is what happens to people and characters we care about and invest our time in. See, Paramount learned that lesson and in “Wrath of Khan” gave us that. The director, cast and crew of RETURNED don’t need to learn that lesson because they started out with it from Day One, I’m betting. I don’t usually spend so much time in a review going on about a movie’s budget but in the case of RETURNED I think it bears mentioning that on a ridiculously small budget, it is totally and wonderfully astonishing what has been accomplished. If and when you watch RETURNED I think you’ll be impressed by what a dedicated director, cast and crew can do when they’re working on a project they truly believe in. What was the budget for RETURNED you ask? I ain’t gonna tell you. Go look it up like I did as part of my research for this review. I ain’t gonna do all your work for you. You’re on the computer most of the day anyway, aint’cha?

Benjamin Lathan (Blue Kimble) thinks that life has played him a really dirty trick in that he’s a young man with his whole life to look forward to and he somehow ends up battling cancer. He makes an appointment for additional chemotherapy treatment in New York. He boards a plane in Jacksonville and the next thing he knows, he’s waking up in a hospital in Atlanta. FBI Special Agent Jourdan Smith (Theresa Sullivan) informs him that he was picked up floating in the Atlantic Ocean. The airplane he was on and the other 200 passengers on that plane have all disappeared without a trace. But wait. It gets worse. Because Ben got on that plane in 2002. It’s now 12 years later. But on the good side, not only has Ben not aged a day, his cancer has vanished completely.

That’s a lot for our boy to take in especially when he sees TV reporter Anissa Rogers (Diane Kirby) and recalls she looks just like a woman who attempted to engage him in small talk just before the flight. Ben has no idea how but he knows she’s tied up in the mystery of the missing 12 years, the passengers and the plane. He sets out to find out how. All the while being closely followed by Agent Smith and her cantankerous fellow agent and professional badass Max Fisher (LeThomas Lee) as Agent Smith suspects there is something far stranger than she can imagine at work here. I’d be willing to bet that Agent Smith is an “X-Files” fan.

RETURNED has a lot going for it in the extremely talented cast who totally commit to their roles and not for a minute are anything less than convincing. Blue Kimble goes through most of the movie playing a man unsure about everything in this new life he’s been thrown into but projects quite well that Benjamin Lathan has a core strength that will see him through. I liked how Benjamin is a proactive character who isn’t satisfied with letting other figure out what happened to him. He goes out and does something on his own.I’ve seen plenty of movies where actors/actresses play multiple roles and it’s rarely convincing. Not in the case of Diane Kirby. She plays three different characters in the movie and the first time I watched the movie I honestly thought it was two separate actresses playing two of those roles. Diane Kirby uses a different manner of speaking and different body language for each character she plays and it’s truly a remarkable piece of acting.

But the MVP honors for this movie has to be shared by Theresa Sullivan and LeThomas Lee. If there’s a sequel to RETURNED (and there should be as there’s a lot of questions left unanswered) Agents Smith and Fisher should be the stars. Sullivan and Lee have a wonderful chemistry together than makes their scenes snap, crackle and pop. And visually they make a distinctive pair that adds to their appeal. In addition, Theresa Sullivan has a quality I don’t know if there’s a name for but there should be. I don’t know what it is that she does or gives her co-actors but when they’re in a scene with her, she makes them better. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her scenes with Lee. Especially in the scene where they have to give a report to their supervisor. Just the looks they gave each other had me laughing so hard I had to pause the movie for a minute to get myself together.

But bitter waters must come with the sweet. In this case, it’s the director. He’s going for an arthouse sensibility that I don’t object to. I always appreciate when a director puts himself out there. I’d rather have a director who takes chances and makes choices that are at least interesting and gives me something to feel and/or think about rather than playing it safe all the time (I’m looking at you, Ron Howard) and Lamont Gant does put himself out there.

But at the same time he doesn’t have to remind us all the time that he’s directing. Especially in a scene where Benjamin is having a drink in a bar and he and the bartender (Sayyed Shabazz) get into a conversation about God, prayer and miracles. It’s a wonderfully simple and yet powerful scene. The bartender tells Benjamin a story and the brother is selling the scene for all he’s worth with just his eyes, his voice and his body. And it was working for me. But then Gant throws in some visual flourishes that I felt were unnecessary and actually pulled me back out of the scene when what I wanted to do was fall further into it. And Gant does that more than once during the movie. Hey, it’s okay to let the camera be still and just let the actors act. You don’t have to let us know all the time that the movie is being directed.

And speaking of the scene in the bar…I dunno if Lamont Gant is ever going to read this review but if you do, here’s a word of advice: put Freddi Green in all your movies. I’m just sayin’

So should you see RETURNED? I don’t think its The Second Coming of Black Science Fiction Film but then again, it’s not trying to be and that’s what I liked most about it. It tells a story as well as it can with strong actors giving solid performances and helmed by a director who obviously has a vision and that’s enough for me. The special effects people do what they can with their limited budget and some of the effects are far better than you would expect.

I’ve seen a lot of movies this year and to be honest with you guys, 2016 has been one of the worst as far as theatrical features go. Most of the best movies I’ve seen have been on Netflix and/or independent features such as RETURNED I’ve discovered through word of mouth. I liked RETURNED a lot and even more than that, respect and admire it for what it is. It gave me my money’s worth in terms of entertainment value and didn’t waste my time and that’s all I ask of any movie.

Here’s a link to the Creative Genius website for further information about the movie. You can also purchase the DVD at Best Buy or Wal-Mart. Enjoy.

Review by Derrick Ferguson

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