The title of Crazy in Alabama could have multiple meanings. It might describe the wild adventures of a young boy growing up in the South. It could describe the pathetic state of civil rights in 1965 Alabama. Or, it could describe one of the film’s central characters, a murderously insane woman who hears voices and dreams of stardom. But no, the “Crazy” in the title is only apt to describe the schizophrenic state of the movie, which unsuccessfully attempts to merge all of the above concepts into a slightly coherent film.
The film is told by Peejoe (Lucas Black), a young boy who’s saddled with a humiliating name. When his favorite aunt, Lucille (Melanie Griffith), admits to killing her husband and cutting off his head, Peejoe’s wild summer begins. Lucille abandons her seven kids and hightails it to Hollywood (dragging along her husband’s head as a souvenir). Peejoe, forced out of his home by the horde of kids, must live in the local mortuary with his Uncle Dove (David Morse).
But that don’t bother Peejoe none, as he takes pleasure sleeping in the coffins which litter the house anyway. Things, however, take a darker turn when Peejoe witnesses the bigotted Sherriff Doggett (Meat Loaf Aday) murder a local black boy for the crime of wanting to swim in a public pool.
So Peejoe is left with a big movie dilemma. If he keeps silent, Doggett will loosen up the search for beloved Aunt Lucille (who’s far out of his jurisdiction anyway). But, if Peejoe testifies against the Sheriff, well…bad things will happen.
Crazy in Alabama has one plot too many…but which one should have been cut? If Peejoe’s tale was dropped, there would be even less cohesion to the story than there is now. If the civil rights tale was omitted, the resulting film would have been creepy, and a little stale. If Lucille’s tale was cut, we’d be left with a rather dry and routine civil rights movie, that’s been done many times before, and much better to boot.
Director Antonio Banderas took a troublesome film for his directoral debut, but it is easy to see why. The film offers plenty of variety. It has its “touching” moments, its “epic” moments, its “important” moments, its “nostalgic” moments, and its “quirky” moments. But all of these manufactured “moments” seem to consist of recycled plastic. There’s nary a spark of life or ingenuity to be found.
Lucas Black is the only actor (in a worthy cast) who gives anywhere near a decent performance. His narrating everyday kid is realistic and sympathetic, but regrettably similar to his superior role in Sling Blade. The rest of the cast is a spectrum of overacting, from the subtle (Meat Loaf’s blindingly hateful sheriff) to the extreme (Cathy Moriarty’s shrieking wife, or Rod Steiger’s idiosyncratic judge).
Who would have thought that so much whiplash could induce boredom. But, despite being pummelled by the unrestrained actors, and whirled and jerked around by the dizzying array of plots, you’ll find Crazy in Alabama to be an utterly unremarkable film.