Queen & Slim

Angela Johnson is having a pretty bad day when she decides to swipe right on Tinder and ends up in a crappy diner having dinner with Ernest Hines. The beautiful attorney (played by Jodie Turner-Smith) explains to her sorta schlubby date (Daniel Kaluuya) that “the state decided to execute my client.” Judging from Angela’s ability to make smart decisions over the rest of the evening, her client had probably originally been arrested for jaywalking.

Before the opening credits roll, Angela and Ernest have gone on to be pulled over by a cop straight from a Spike Lee movie. The racist creep is pretty blatant in harassing Ernest. Then the sneering officer grazes Angela with a bullet despite her clearly announcing that she’s reaching for her phone to record the encounter.

Ernest struggles for the gun and bravely kills the cop – who’s so evidently inept that no filmgoer will be offended when the audience cheers. Unfortunately for Ernest, Angela takes command and decides they have to flee the crime scene and become fugitives. She doesn’t even care that Ernest’s vanity license plate of “TRUSTGOD” had already been radioed back by the dead officer.

But, you know, that’s all okay. Queen & Slim is pretty much a remake of 1975’s Aloha, Bobby and Rose. (Literary fraud James Frey steals the story credit.) That little gem recovered from a character doing something really stupid before going on the lam with the gal he was taking out for a first date. Queen & Slim is equally set to compensate for that kind of thing. First, however, it has to become one of the weirdest movies to ever get a big push as a major Oscar contender.

Angela and Ernest, of course, are carrying a lot more societal baggage than white kids Bobby and Rose had to while dodging the cops. That’s marked by the couple’s transformation into Queen & Slim after they have to change into some questionable clothing while hiding out at the New Orleans home of Angela’s hard-pimping uncle. The script still stays true to the characters, with both Turner-Smith and Kaluuya deftly seducing the audience as their characters charm each other.

The audience has to suspend a lot of disbelief, though. For example, we’re shown the police car dashcam footage that’s all over the news. There isn’t a conservative media figure on the planet who’d try to defend the obviously unnecessary shooting by a trigger-happy cop. We see that there’s a massive FBI task force chasing after our heroes, but no one bothers to monitor the grave of Angela’s mother after they’re sighted in the area. The police are just as disinterested in staking out Angela’s criminal relation in New Orleans after the couple is seen driving through Kentucky from Cleveland.

The two fugitives take their time on the run, too. At least that’s a logical lapse in service of a superior road movie. There’s plenty of beautiful cinematography as they head through Savannah and across the Florida panhandle. Angela and Ernest’s frequent stops take us on a garish and loving tour of a Lynchian landscape that’ll be familiar to lowlife Southerners of any race.

That’s kind of the big secret to Queen & Slim. It’s really just a superior drive-in movie that can rank up there with Macon County LineBoxcar Bertha, and Jackson County Jail. Flea even shows up to make a case for being the new Michael J. Pollard. The film’s sole sex scene is vintage Robert Corman – and daringly intercut with a jarring tragedy that underscores the repercussions of Angela’s idiotic decisions back in Cleveland.

Before the movie is over, you’re not just cheering for Angela and Ernest. You’re also cheering for Melinda Matsoukas to bring the film to a stirring conclusion. After all, the veteran video director has easily made one of the year’s sharpest-looking films with her feature debut. A solid ending could’ve elevated this trashy epic into something truly special.

Sadly, we end up just getting the new Billy Jack. To be fair, a lot of people won’t have a problem with that. Tom Laughlin sure believed that Billy Jack deserved some Oscar nominations. Matsoukas has a far better chance with the Academy.