Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 3, 2019)
For a supernatural take on the murder mystery genre, we head to 2019’s Don’t Let Go. Because his brother Garrett (Brian Tyree Henry) makes questionable life choices, Jack Radcliff (David Oyelowo) tends to act as a surrogate father to his teenaged niece Ashley (Storm Reid).
Garrett’s unstable past appears to come back and haunt the family when it looks like he kills Ashley, wife Susan (Shinelle Azoroh) and himself. These events leave Jack understandably distraught, though he suspects someone other than Garrett committed the crimes.
Not long after her death, Jack starts to receive cell phone calls from Ashley. These come from the past, as Jack hears from Ashley only a few days before the murders.
Once he comes to grips with the insanity of this notion, Jack senses an opportunity. With a connection to Ashley, he works to solve the murders and alter his present via attempts to keep his niece alive in the past.
Would it sound snarky if I said I liked Don’t Let Go better when it was called Déjà Vu? Probably – while the two share the use of time travel as a path to crime-solving, they approach the topics in different ways.
Still, I couldn’t help but compare the movies, partly because I thought Déjà Vu worked better. While both suffer from the inevitable lapses of logic that come with time travel stories, Déjà Vu offered enough entertainment to let me ignore those issues.
Not so the surprisingly boring Go. Sometimes it feels like filmmakers think that a clever premise will compensate for other cinematic shortcomings, and that seems like the case here.
Derivative though it may sound, the notion that Jack works with “past Ashley” to change reality works well. At the very least, the trailers made the concept intriguing enough to attract my attention.
Unfortunately, the film’s ads essentially use up all the cleverness at hand. Once you get to the full film, you find yourself stuck with a fairly boring story that never allows for much suspension of disbelief.
None of this relates to the basic concept itself, as I’m more than happy to ignore realism and indulge in a universe where dudes receive phone calls from the past. The film suffers because it lacks the internal consistency it needs to thrive.
Put simply, we find too many “damn, that’s stupid” moments here. To keep the plot in motion, Jack has to seem too dumb too often to make sense, and these moments harpoon the film’s potential.
In truth, the story should end pretty soon after Jack accepts that he truly does receive phone calls from “past Ashley”. As we see, he figures out how to convince her that he’s “future Jack”, so if he does this early enough, he can steer her from harm’s way.
Since that ends the movie around the 20-minute mark, I understand why the filmmakers came up with other obstacles. The problem stems from the inherent absurdity of the problems Jack and Ashley encounter and how little consistent sense anything makes.
As noted earlier, though, the film’s lack of much excitement becomes the biggest issue. We find little real suspense, and not just because we know that Jack and Ashley will eventually rewrite the timeline to keep her alive.
Spoiler alert? Go ahead and chew me out if you want, but anyone who goes to Go and expects it to end with Ashley still dead doesn’t understand Hollywood movies. Maybe the indie version with the $39 budget goes dark ‘n’ nihilistic like that, but there’s no way this one would do so.
The potential fun comes from the ways that Jack conducts the investigation and deals with threats. The fun remains potential and never realized, as the story seems oddly sluggish and flat.
We sense the real villains early, and we can tell which come as red herrings. We don’t find any real surprises along the way – well, other than the filmmakers’ choice to give Go a Groundhog Day riff that makes the end result even less exciting.
Go does offer a good cast, as in addition to Oyelowo, Reid and Henry, we find professionals like Mykelti Williamson and Alfred Molina. All seem less than inspired and none can elevate this muddled material.
Despite its poor reviews, I hoped that the cast and premise of Don’t Let Go would allow it to become an entertaining effort. Unfortunately, the critics got it right, and this ends up as a boring attempt at a thriller.