Keke Palmer explodes, while the story of racism implodes.
Keke Palmer has made a name for herself with a number of movies from “Akeelah and the Bee” to “Ice Age: Continental Drift” to “Hustlers,” well as as the songs she sings. And even she had a fresh contribution to the “Big Mouth” series as the voice of Rochelle the love bug.
She now delivers an entertaining performance in “Alice,” which represents modern day racism with a Pam Grier spin that makes it into a new genre. Writer/director Krystin Ver Linden wants to make her film debut with the right dialogue and versatility, but this type of genre, which she’s trying to express, is off to a slow start.
Palmer is Alice, a slave in Antebellum, who marries Jospeh (Gaius Charles) in secrecy, deals with her ruthless owner Paul Bennett (Jonny Lee Miller), and escapes from the plantation. Only this time, she finds herself on a highway in 1973 with an African-American truck driver and former Black Panther named Frank (Common), who brings her to his place.
Given her status, she’s unfamiliar with lighters, trucks, sandwiches with mustard, TV sets (“Are they small people?” she asks), and the diversity that begins to take place. She starts to learn about the Emancipation Proclamation, the Black Panther Party, and all this time, she has been free.
She looks up Rachel Bennett (Alicia Witt), the wife of Paul, in the phonebook, and decides to confront her for leaving Alice and her friends and family to suffer at the plantation. That’s when she decides to become Pam Grier meets Harriet Tubman to free them.
“Alice” wants to be poetic and brave in its representation of what’s wrong with society, but it doesn’t have there kind of story structure it deserves. Jordan Peele expressed racism in “Get Out,” Spike Lee expressed it in almost all his movies, Boots Riley expressed it in “Sorry to Bother You,” and now Krystin Ver Linden tries to live up to their expectations. If only she could have delve deeper inside what society has wrought on innocent people.
Palmer adapts from one surrounding to the next, and her acting is versatile in the ways she goes from a meek slave to a strong woman. Common is also an activist, and I met him when he discussed his views years ago, so he’s able to merge his real-life goals with his acting. These two have a chemistry that nearly reminded me of John David Washington and Laura Harrier’s in “BlacKkKlansmann,” and both movies fight with the times, and acknowledge that history has a way of repeating itself. But “BlacKkKlansmann” is the better movie to see, because of how pulsating and provocative it was, whereas “Alice” is more about style and dialogue than its true nature.
The best moment in the movie, at the very least, is when Alice confronts Rachel and her little boy at a diner, and when the kid asks Alice to bring him food, she turns him down. It’s not often we get to see an African-American adult criticize a racist white kid, Palmer handles the situation quite well. But that’s all there is to it. The rest of the film relies on its most predictable pay-off, which makes white people the villains. I support the African-American community, because I’m not prejudice, and I can’t imagine what they went through and are going through. But I want them to understand that not every white person is awful.
Ever since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, I had to process my reactions. It has a nice idea by combining the qualities of Pam Grier and Harriet Tubman, but it’s not much of a perfect movie. It’s more of a teaser for upcoming movies about fighting racism with that combination.