By: Jessica Goddard
It’s an intriguing premise: a crude ex-convict will stop at nothing to build a motivational speaking empire. Tijuana Jackson is unrefined, unreliable, and painfully pompous; but for better or for worse, he is motivated.
Brainchild of writer, director and star Romany Malco (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, The Duff), mockumentary Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison is a surprising take on the flighty criminal with a heart of gold. That is to say, it doesn’t sugarcoat its subject, unafraid to demonstrate all the ways Jackson (Malco) is insufferable despite his lofty ambitions.
Fresh out of the clink, Jackson (or “TJ”) gets a call inviting him to audition for a reality show which he knows will catapult him to motivational speaker stardom. Unfortunately for Jackson (or “TJ”), he’ll have to work around his probation officer Cheryl (Regina Hall), who has zero tolerance for his antics and demands he get a real job like he’s supposed to. To make matters worse, he’d have to leave his jurisdiction and violate parole to attend the lifechanging audition.
The film takes some comedic risks that don’t quite pay off, but one thing that is never lacking is energy. From start to finish, there’s action and enthusiasm even when the jokes fall flat. Regina Hall is great in her role as a tough but ultimately compassionate “P.O.”, and Jackson’s chummy relationship with his young, loyal nephew Eric (Alkoya Brunson) is another highlight. For those of us less familiar with lower-income suburban Florida, there’s an added element of culture shock that renders the faux-documentary style accidentally kind of sincere…and enjoyable.
The narrative resolves itself a little too quickly – as if it were written with full consciousness that the movie’s best joke is the premise itself – but the ending is believable enough that it fits into the chosen mockumentary framing gracefully.
All in all, an entertaining flick and competent directorial debut, with good energy and some laughs here and there.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod