Characters whose names would not be out of place as a bit-part in an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are criminal writing endeavours. But for Walton Boggs (Simmons) and Jackie Powers (Caan), there seems to be little care. One Day as a Lion presents the potential life of crime for an easily influenced character and hopes to throwdown a chance for redemption before a move to the underworld is made. Opening credits that figure Jethro Tull flute-playing is enough to get itself over the line, One Day as a Lion has all the usual draws of the low-budget with a legend-to-boot sub-genre. It should be no surprise how much time Simmons gives to this piece, and how little of it works.
Time is money. Yes it is, a nondescript character hitting out at a worker with no work to do. One Day as a Lion is an hour and a half worth of money, scrawling around the screen in a nicely styled setting. Holding firm with that line drawn just before backwater town and holding firm at the dated modules of sheriff hats and plaid t-shirts, director John Swab, whose hand in exploitation and rough action is firm, hits on well. But in that also is a dated style. Men riding on the back of horses to their dang old favourite watering holes. At least it is J.K. Simmons, and sporting that magnificent beard it is hard to feel anything but moderate contempt for how dull One Day as a Lion is. At least the actors within are competent and have been told not to chew at the scenery. Presumably, as it is a rental.
But within that rented floor space and the trends and stereotypes of the thrilling drug-fuelled world of quiet American towns where everyone is a character and has sage-old, terrible thoughts, is a story. Underdeveloped, dull and charmless, but a story nonetheless. Still, having Scott Caan sport a clear and false moustache and hyping himself up by repeatedly throwing a pistol around and repeating the word “fuck it,” his handlebar stick-on looming over his Bahamas shirt like The Lorax’s facial addendum, it becomes clear the budget was splashed out on bringing Simmons into the fold. Airsoft guns, Frank Grillo appearances and shirtless cowboys stood off in the background, blurry enough to notice, not blurry enough to mistake their perked-up nipples and conquistador facial hair.
Still, One Day as a Lion looks quite nice for this sort of feature. When low-budget and straight-to-streaming write-offs look quite nice and are on-location, it is hard to knock them too harshly. Swab fails to convince of his story and his characters but the likes of Simmons were never going to be hammy and uncoordinated. They are at least present, active and trying for those moments he shows up for. Grillo has his teeth around the scenery, and it is up to the rest of the cast to swat at him with the broom of good faith in a story that could do with a few eccentrics. Grillo brings a bit too heavy a dose, and the shock switch to a courtroom drama toward the end, the terrible blood splatters on a changed man, are as shoddy as the story it finds itself in.