In the annals of White People Saving Black People from Themselves and/or Other White People melodramas, Deadline is no more and no less self-righteous than most, though few are as incompetently made. The film, essentially a regional production of Mississippi Burning updated for our post-racial times, is inspired by actual events, but the characters and dialogue are fictitious, which you believe as soon as the young black couple in the opening scene references Maya Angelou, freedom, Bill Clinton, Nikki Giovanni, and several Ivy League schools in freakishly quick succession, a trite means of establishing their essential goodness before Wallace Sampson (Romonte Hamer) walks off, turns toward his honey, and gives her one of those slow-mo this-is-probably-the-last-time-your-going-to-see-me waves that always forecasts trouble—here a bullet that claims his life and leaves Vanessa Brown (Tucker Perry) screaming as if she swallowed a reverb machine, which is apparently how the caged bird sings.
Flash forward to present-day Amos, Alabama, where reporter Matt Harper (Steve Talley) tries to get the scoop on the murder of a white police chief and some rich blonde played by someone who can’t act links the crime to Wallace’s unsolved murder. There will be dinner with racists, a visit to the house of Wallace’s mama—who keeps a picture of her son in between photos of Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama—scored to a spiritual, and a plethora of distracting, unsurprisingly stock side-plots, from the father with cancer to the fiancée jealous of the do-gooder’s cojones-building humanist journey and partner, that exist solely to push this very special episode of 3-2-1 Contact to feature length. Just about the only note of mercy is the shit-eating grin on newspaperman Eric Roberts’s face.
Justice will be served, and predictably so. More dumbfounding is the filmmaking, which is so inept it’s almost endearing: characters strategically holding up newspapers so headlines can fill us in on crucial plot points; Trey (Lauren Jenkins) proposing the links between the two murders from the hilariously unbelievable point of a view of the lower left-hand corner of a conference table; and characters arriving at locations you will never forget from the huge block letters on their surfaces, such as MEDICAL CENTER. And all of it—I mean, all of it—is inanely scored to sub-Dave Matthews Band blues-rock about falling into 100-foot deep holes and burying hammers and nails in time capsules. By the end of it, you’ll be crying uncle—or wish you were watching The Help instead. At least that was a more artful lie.