With 17 new films in pre- or post-production (according to IMDb), Tom Sizemore is attempting to position himself, a la Robert Downey Jr., as the recovered star reborn, a narrative Hollywood adores. But Cellmates isn’t exactly Sizemore’s homecoming blockbuster, nor is it a concerted, Mickey Rourke-style effort to reestablish his worth as a serious actor. It’s a minor indie comedy by an unknown director, Jesse Baget, and it’s being self-distributed by its producers. But Cellmates seems tailor-made for a washed-up yet comeback-hopeful actor to really let loose in, and everything about it is primed to recharge Sizemore’s severely drained credibility. He stars as Leroy Lowe, an endearingly imbecilic Grand Dragon in the Texas chapter of the Klu Klux Klan who finds himself thrown in jail for conspiracy against the state. A gruff bigot who eventually redeems himself, Lowe is precisely the kind of oversized caricature that a great actor could have fun immortalizing, and the film provides so little in the way of narrative direction and ancillary action that it comes to live or die on the strength of its central performance. In short, Cellmates offers Sizemore the perfect opportunity to prove himself worthy of a comeback. Alas, he fails spectacularly.
On paper, Leroy Lowe is larger than life, a cartoony Klansman who learns the errors of his ways. But Sizemore practically sleepwalks through the role, mumbling in a ridiculous (but not campy ridiculous) Texas accent and barely mustering the energy to look angry when he needs to. Lowe is the film, and yet Sizemore isn’t only out-acted by his co-stars, he’s completely overshadowed by them, fading into the margins whenever a single other person appears on screen. It’s embarrassing to watch him flail around so helplessly, hacking out line readings and apparently misunderstanding the very concept of comic timing. Meanwhile, the always-wonderful Stacy Keach—co-starring as a prison warden obsessed, Forrest Gump-style, with potato harvesting and preparation—gets a hearty laugh nearly every time he opens his mouth, and I felt bad that his well-devised comic repartee was confined to a hopeless back and forth with a has-been who clearly didn’t want to be there.