by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday January 25, 2019


The Jon Kauffman-directed and co-written "Heartlock" doesn't seem to know whether it's more comfortable as a steamy telenovela or a gritty prison picture - or, perhaps, a black comedy set behind bars.

The story is both simple and convoluted. Lee Haze (Alexander Dreymon) is an inmate at the Heartlock Correctional Facility. He's serving time for a string of armed robberies he committed with his girlfriend. She's still at large, and he's pled guilty to their shared crimes, taking all the blame onto himself for her sake. When she stops writing him - and all the letters he's sent her are returned - Lee determines to break out of prison and, presumably, win her back (because everyone knows the way to a woman's heart is through a laundry cart, a sewer tunnel, or some other daring escape route).

Having no real idea how to formulate a plan, much less put one in motion, Klee approaches the prison's de facto leader, Continental (Erik LaRay Harvey), a smart and ruthless con who has a knack for Hannibal Lecter-type mind games (not to mention he's given the film's best lines). Continental has a nice drug smuggling operation going at the prison. When Lee turns out to be useful in keeping that operation going, Continental decides he and Lee can work together. Step one: Choose a guard to groom as continental's next "duckling," code for a guard who can be turned, owned, and used. Convenient plot point: New guard Tera Sharpe (Lesley-Ann Brandt), the daughter of the prison's former warden, knows Lee from high school. It's a slender thread, but Lee (together with the screenwriters) tugs on it with all the finesse he can muster.

The film's armchair psychology and watered-down literary notions (Haze and Sharpe; oh, how clever) almost make for a serviceable framework, but then come the characterizations and the overall execution. The latter is plodding; the former is rote and without much believability. Familiar tropes spring out of the woodwork, as the woman turns out to be eminently seduceable, the charming bad boy ends up revealing both a heart and a soul, and it's left to the evil mastermind to impart what fun there is to be had.

To that end, veteran TV actor (and rising film presence) Erik LaRay Harvey delivers. He's clearly enjoying himself, and he finds the right balance between melodrama and comedy with even the most ham-handed lines. "Leadership is complicated," he explains at one point, just after he's intimidated a recalcitrant guard. Then, in quick order, he reels off two more priceless gems: "People be people. They do shit," he observes, before offering some sage advice: "I've found anger solves just about everything."

In a film stuffed with mediocre performances, middling-to-muddled direction, and barely adequate writing, Harvey's Continental is a standout possessing the same sort of charisma that has powered magnetically compelling bad guys since at least the publication of "Paradise Lost." (The character even weathers the absurd reveal that he's an impossibly skilled lip-reader, in another of the movie's ridiculous turns.) Let's hope to see Harvey at the center of a better film, and soon.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.