You can see where writer / director Sean Patrick Flanery wanted to take his film “Frank & Penelope,” but it never quite crosses the finish line. This “True Romance” meets “Wild At Heart” outlaw love story feels like a low rent rip-off that borrows too heavily from better films that came before.
Frank (Billy Budinich) and his spunky stripper girlfriend Penelope (Caylee Cowan) are on the run from the cops. Traveling along a sprawling, deserted stretch of road that is miles away from civilization, they decide to rest for the night at a small motel and diner. Of course, they can’t resist robbing the joint, which thrusts the lovebirds into a hellish nightmare at the hands of the establishment’s psychotic proprietor, Chisos (Johnathon Schae) and his sadistic family.
It’s a tried-and-true outline for a solid action film, but it never really comes together. A.J. Raitano‘s candy-colored cinematography is appealing, making the entire movie feel like a dream world and the characters look like illustrations that were ripped from a pulp fiction novel. The dialogue is salacious, and making Penelope a stripper is a tawdry (and unnecessary) way to give the movie a risqué sex appeal. Budinich and Cowan aren’t believable as a couple, and their performances are campy and amateurish. I don’t think this level of mediocrity was on purpose, because they both manage to make their characters likeable.
Flanery’s directing is all over the place, choppy and clunky and distracting. He nails the genre-blending exercise however, successfully incorporating 70s and 80s horror elements into an action love story. The script features some great romantic moments (mixed with bloody violence), but glosses over the lifetime of trauma that would no doubt be crippling. In other words, there is a lot thrown at the audience to digest, and the end result is like a 1,000 piece puzzle that is still missing a few pieces.
“Frank and Penelope” is a movie that actually gets better the longer you stick with it, but it’s still not very good. The ending has a payoff that’s satisfying, and Flanery nails the dark and twisted, retro crime thriller vibe, but overall this is a middle-of-the-road B-movie.