There is an endless list of feature films made on a small budget that ended up looking like there was only about $20 to produce the project. Then there are small-budget productions such as “Showdown at the Grand” that come across looking like there was $20 million to make the film.
Credit writer/director Orson Oblowitz for pulling off this bit of cinematic magic. From the majestic setting of the story to the casting coup of landing Oscar-nominee Terrence Howard, Oblowitz has made one of the biggest looking small-budget movies to come along in decades.
“Showdown at the Grand” is a nod to those who are not only passionate about movies but also about the places where they are shown. George Fuller (Terrence Howard) is the owner/operator of the Warner Grand movie theater. It is a single-screen facility where classic and not-so-classic movies are shown.
Decked out in urban cowboy gear, Fuller treats every screening – even if only a scant few moviegoers have shown up – as if they were world premieres. Part of the experience is the museum he has created of movie memorabilia.
A large part of the display is devoted to Claude Luc Hallyday (Dolph Lundgren), a C-grade actor whose career has taken a long trip down obscurity lane. That doesn’t stop Fuller from treating him like one of the most famous movie icons to ever grace the silver screen.
Fuller’s world is threatened when unscrupulous corporate developers show up with an offer to buy the theater. When Fuller rejects their offer, he must then defend his business from the group that will stop at nothing.
Oblowitz has created an interesting story about being passionate to the point of obsession. Fuller isn’t just a devoted businessman but has created such a connection with his theater it is as if he is as much a part of the facility as the seats and screen.
This works because of the casting of Howard who makes Fuller an extremely textured character. There are moments when it looks like Fuller has lost touch with reality and slipped into the cinematic world he has loved all his life. Then he immediately becomes a warrior defending his true love from outside forces.
Howard (“Hustle & Flow”) is such a talented actor that he makes Fuller both a hero to be admired and an everyman worthy of pity. The simple casting of Howard immediately elevated this production from the small-budget category.
The other smart casting was having Lundgren (“The Expendables”) play the fading action hero. There is a mirror-like situation going on with Lundgren playing a character in the fading years of his career while seeing his own career slip into small-budget movies.
As if Howard and Lundgren weren’t more than could have been expected in such a small-budget project, Oblowitz cast John Savage (“The Deer Hunter”) to play Fuller’s friend. Savage brings a nice balance of raw intensity to balance the Zen-like approach of Howard’s character. The only flaw is that the two don’t have more screen time together.
The other major player is the location. The Warner Grand is just that – grand. Because the theater is such a representation of a time when movie theaters were more like movie palaces, the theater gives the look of the movie a lush backdrop.
“Showdown at the Grand” will be available starting Nov. 10 on all major digital platforms to rent or own. Often movies that have gone direct to video or now to digital platforms get easily dismissed as not being on par with movies that get grand theatrical releases. That is definitely not the case with “Showdown at the Grand.”
This production uses some of Hollywood’s top actors to tell the rich story of passion, commitment and loyalty. The fact it all unfolds in a setting that looks like a million dollars is the last element to prove the size of a budget doesn’t matter. It is the scope of those making the production that makes all the difference in the world.
Showdown at the Grand
Cast: Terrence Howard, Dolph Lundgren, John Savage, Piper Curda, Amanda Righetti.
Director: Orson Oblowitz
Rated: Not rated but includes violence
Running time: 92 minutes.