Eshom and Ian Nelms' Small Town Crime, starring John Hawkes, seems to promise a quirky Long Goodbye-like detective story in a mountain town, following an alcoholic ex-cop who finds a dead body and pursues the killer at all costs — when he's not bumbling from one townie bar to the next. But why set their story in a small town if it and its inhabitants have no defining personality or mannerisms? Every town possesses a history, culture, lineage and language all unto its own, but in the Nelms' hands we see none of that. Here's a half-boiled mystery and boring bad guys, but the film does have a saving grace: Hawkes' comic timing.
Ex-cop Mike Kendall (Hawkes) wakes up each morning wherever his nightly bender has left him. Sometimes he's in his home with his car plowed through the front yard; sometimes he's not. One fateful dawn splayed in the middle of a field, clinging to some trash, he finds the body of a young woman, bloody and barely alive. Drunken Mike also glimpses a smidgen of hope: He could get a little piece of his old life as a cop back by finding the guy who did this.
We're given no sense of whether the woman's murder is commonplace or extraordinary in this community, even though it seems like everyone knows everyone. As the investigation proceeds, and young, sexy corpses pop up in this seemingly serene town, it's never explained where there's apparently a local reserve of lingerie models ready to get shot or locked up in someone's trunk. The crime genre has long had many a woman-problem, but does emulating a throwback style necessitate repeating old mistakes?