Get-rich-quick schemes rarely turn out the way we hope. Yet when they involve a seemingly easy crime, those planning the crime often run into unexpected repercussions. Money has a way of making those who want it act out of character. In Cinnamon, what seems like an easy decision quickly spirals out of control. Director Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr. builds an interesting world but suffers from questionable performances.
A young singer, Jodi (Hailey Kilgore), works late at a gas station. One night, a man holds up the store, only to kill one of the patrons. However, the man killed is related to a local crime syndicate headed by Mama (Pam Grier) and James Walker (Jeremie Harris). Jodi worked as an inside woman for her boyfriend Eddie (David Iacoco), and the two thought they could escape Scott-free. When Mama and James look for the thief who killed their kin, Jodi and Eddie find themselves running for their lives.
Montgomery builds the small-town crime story well. Not only does it feature highly unique characters, but the connections between each criminal make sense. In terms of storytelling, it fits right next to stories from Jon Lansdale and Ross Thomas. However, Cinnamon features good performances and bad performances.
The good stems from Kilgore. The actress delivers a believable character from the beginning of Cinnamon. The artist stuck in a small town is a common trope, yet she makes it feel fresh. It’s a huge benefit when she’s on-screen and trying to control the situation. Unfortunately, her agency is taken away for a stretch of the film, forcing her into a damsel in distress role.
Harris stands out as well, embodying the terrifying hitman and muscle of the operation. With Grier, the two make for an intimidating pair. However, Grier seems sidelined for much of the film by putting her in a predominantly silent performance. She brings a physicality we have not seen from her in years, and she owns the screen. It’s not going to be written about as a career resurgence, but she reminds us why she’s so beloved.
However, the other aspects of the ensemble feel miscast. Damon Wayans does not work, partly because he nukes his charisma in the role. He obviously skims from the business and has shady deals. It’s impossible to believe that Harris and Grier would have the wool pulled over their eyes by this character. He’s so obvious and bad at smooth-talking that it actually makes the other characters appear inept. It’s a huge problem and kills the comedy that is available.
The blaxploitation homage causes other performances to feel forced as well. A sequence in a pizza diner contains no less than two caricatures. A femme fatale is introduced as a side character and again, gives away too much in limited screen time.
When these roles are not cast correctly, they upend the stakes of the mystery. This is a shame, as Cinnamon builds a fun story for us to fawn over. Montgomery proves talented enough to continue making genre pictures, but with a little more luck and control over the ensemble, they could assert themselves as a talent to watch.