Michael Cuesta earned notoriety a decade ago with his first film, L.I.E., starring Brian Cox as a pedophile and Paul Dano as one of his targets. Cuesta went on to direct multiple episodes of Six Feet Under and Dexter, plus a couple more movies (Twelve and Holding, Tell-Tale), but the future success hinted at by his dazzling debut has so far eluded him. It's possible he sympathizes with the frustrated protagonist in his new film, Roadie, who likewise has not lived up to his potential. If so, it's a little ironic, because Roadie is exactly the kind of generic and unremarkable indie comedy that will ensure Cuesta never gets ahead.
It stars Ron Eldard as Jimmy Testagross, a would-be rocker who has spent years schlepping equipment for the Blue Oyster Cult. After he is unceremoniously fired mid-tour, Jimmy returns to the Queens, N.Y., neighborhood where he grew up, and finds that his widowed mother (Lois Smith) is going a bit dotty, and that his high school sweetheart, Nikki (Jill Hennessy), has married a loudmouth named Randy (Bobby Cannavale). Jimmy tells everyone he's Blue Oyster Cult's manager and occasional songwriter, and insists he can only stay for a couple days. In reality, he has all the time in the world, and no idea what to do with it.
Ron Eldard has earned praise on Broadway, had stints on ER, Men Behaving Badly, and Blind Justice, and acted in films like Black Hawk Down and Freedomland (and the upcoming Super 8). He's a natural at both comedy and drama. He ought to be more famous than he is. With a profane, rat-a-tat delivery and jaundiced view of the world, his Jimmy Testagross has a bit of the Denis Leary about him, which isn't a bad thing at all. He comes across as a likable guy with some rough edges -- someone with whom it would be easy to spend a couple hours hanging out. As Jimmy's neglected old mother, Lois Smith is somewhere between kindly matron and harping battle-axe (maybe you can see why Jimmy hasn't visited in a while), while Bobby Cannavale and Jill Hennessy are serviceable as the other two parts of Jimmy's social triangle. The small cast fits the movie's small scale, taking place over the course of about 36 hours in one corner of the neighborhood.
Movies about people who return to their hometowns in times of crisis are not in short supply. Neither are movies about people who realize their lives have no direction. It is likely that every writer who has reconnected with old friends while visiting the town he grew up in has thought, "Hey, these wistful feelings I'm experiencing would probably make for a good movie!" But why would Cuesta, with three films already under his belt, choose such a simplistic and uncompelling story for his fourth? (He wrote the screenplay with his brother, Gerald Cuesta.) Instead of bringing something new to the familiar scenario, he merely assembles the usual ingredients into an average, innocuous film, something that isn't good enough to recommend or bad enough to avoid.