Stupid and Shortsighted
In the opening scene of Rushlights, a teenage girl is approached by an attractive, slightly older teenage guy in the diner where she works. She’s a recovering addict, but she’s feeling hopeful about a potential relationship with this charmer. At this point, the girl has no idea that she’ll later call this same guy to come to her apartment when her doppelganger of a roommate overdoses on heroin. This mysterious man will seduce her into committing a series of violent crimes.
This is the premise of Rushlights, which is, the credits assert, “inspired by true events.” Unfortunately, it’s also familiar and predictable. The saga of Billy (Josh Henderson) and Sarah (Haley Webb) is set in motion when her lookalike roommate Ellen (also played by Webb) ODs. Among her possessions, the new couple discovers a letter from an attorney, naming Ellen the sole heir to her uncle’s estate in a small Texas town.
Spurred by the promise of wealth, Billy and Sarah head south in his beat-up muscle car. At first they might appear a young Bonnie and Clyde, but they lack the reckless sensibilities and wit of the sleek movie versions of those outlaws. Instead, Sarah is another lost, manipulated young woman with addiction problems, doing whatever Billy asks of her. This in turn makes him yet another bad boy inclined to domination: Sarah rarely appears alone or acts independently of Billy. In one such instance, the camera makes sure we notice her pathology, closes on her contorted face and her hand grabbing for a gun, when we know this can only end badly.
More often, the girl is the boy’s accessory. When they meet with Cameron Brogden (Aidan Quinn), the lawyer representing the dead man’s estate, Billy plays the part of the cool, informed boyfriend who is simply looking out for the best interests of his suddenly rich girlfriend. The camera focuses in on Sarah’s face as she glances at Billy and asks for permission before she even speaks to Cameron. The frame slowly widens, with Billy standing in the center as he recites a speech he’d practiced with Sarah earlier. Director Antoni Stutz doesn’t complicate their possible motives, but instead revisits delinquent kids stereotypes. That we know nothing about their dreams and desires makes it difficult to identify with or care what happens to them.
Sadly, nothing much does happen: we hear references to a gay sex scandal and allegations that the dead uncle fathered a child with his housekeeper. But the action remains muted: even Sarah’s meeting with Ellen’s drug dealer is boring rather than tense. Requisite action sequences look rather like low-quality copies of scenes found in any TV movie about nasty drug dealers and down-on-their-luck addicts. Sarah takes drugs from the dealer even after he threatens her life, another juvenile delinquent who’s stupid and shortsighted.
The delinquents need schooling from a lawman, of course, and so Billy and Sarah must confront Cameron’s brother, Sheriff Robert Brogden (Beau Bridges). Though he’s goodhearted and dedicated to justice, he’s not a very good investigator. He tries to manipulate Billy into letting him search the estate, but he is quickly shut down by his own brother. None of the Sheriff’s attempts at finding evidence to arrest the couple works, making him look as stupid as his the kids he means to catch.
All this stupidity might make us wonder about those ostensibly inspiring “true events.” While it’s plausible that a pair of teens try to steal a roommate’s inheritance, the script recalls an after-school special, reinforcing formulaic notions of kids as good and bad. Instead of asking audiences to reflect on why teens commit crimes, Rushlights asks viewers to accept that Billy and Sarah are simply the latter.