A father does everything he can — and just in case, a little more — to save his kidnapped daughter in Little Dixie, a diverting but largely unconvincing cartel thriller from writer-director John Swab now available for rent or purchase on YouTube, Prime Video, Apple TV+, and other streaming services worldwide.
Swab’s recent Candy Land was a gritty but ultimately authentic-feeling little slasher movie set amongst sex workers at a rural truck stop. It’s a little disappointing that Little Dixie, despite a more established cast and what feels like a far larger budget, fails to achieve the same level of credibility.
Little Dixie stars Frank Grillo as Doc Alexander, an ex-Special forces operative who now serves as a go-between for the cartel and the government of Oklahoma. Governor Richard Jeffs (Eric Dane) was Doc’s onetime army pal, but now campaign advisor Billie Riggs (Annabeth Gish) serves as Doc’s connection to state officials.
That indirect line of communication kicks off Little Dixie’s complex setup, as the Governor goes rogue in an attempt to court public approval and oversee the execution of cartel honcho Juan Miguel Prado (Luis Da Silva Jr.) in the film’s opening scene.
Unfortunately for Doc, Juan was the brother of cartel head Lalo Miguel Prado (Maurice Compte), who sends half-brother Cuco (Beau Knapp) stateside to sort things out. Cuco’s plan: kidnap Doc’s daughter (Sofia Bryant) and force the old man to bring him the head of the governor in exchange.
This kicks off a bloodbath that makes up for much of Little Dixie’s running time as Grillo’s Doc begins to murder everyone in his way with the efficiency of John Wick in efforts to get his daughter back.
We’re down with it when Doc is taking out cartel baddies, corrupt government officials, and even their rather unassuming security personnel. But at a certain point Doc begins executing innocent bystanders who witness his crimes due to his own poor planning, and we start to question if we should really be rooting for this guy. Judging by the climactic events, Little Dixie doesn’t seem to share the same concern.
Beau Knapp, meanwhile, walks away with the movie as the mumbling half-American Prado brother, menacing through his dark sunglasses throughout the film. Cuco is the lone element of the movie that reads as if someone tried to do something out of the ordinary here, but the movie ultimately doesn’t know what to do with the character.
Coming in the wake of the Sicario films, the Breaking Bad franchise, and first-rate features like Cormac McCarthy’s The Counselor, Little Dixie has its work cut out for it as a border thriller that explores what happens when cartel business goes wrong for “associates” north of the border.
And while Swab has a great feel for the genre (including a terrific soundtrack and neon-lit cinematography), and a diverting knack for holding onto his characters as they process their situation, he’s working with a second-rate screenplay that feels ripped from a Taken sequel. The border setting invites comparison with some modern classics, and Little Dixie can’t help but pale next to them.