Southern Movie 48: “Good Intentions” (2010)

2010’s Good Intentions is a cute and predictable little comedy, but not much more. Set in Georgia, the movie stars Luke Perry (Of Beverly Hills 90210 fame) as Chester, a ne’er-do-well liquor store owner and wannabe inventor. Elaine Hendrix plays Etta, his tolerant but shifty wife, who has to pinch pennies because he blows all of their money. The story centers on a redneck husband’s penchant for pursuing foolish ideas and on his wife’s criminal efforts to restock the family coffers. Good Intentions also co-stars country singer LeeAnn Rimes.

The movie opens with the credits rolling over a black screen while the old-time gospel song “Sinner, You Better Get Ready” plays, then we see a rainy funeral scene. People are leaving the graveside, where we see a little girl of about four or five. She is pretty and blonde and is the last one sitting in the rows of chairs in front of a tombstone that reads Earl J Lee, with the death year as 1984. The girl sits bewildered, until two smiling relatives come by and explain with over-friendliness that she will be coming to live with them.

The scene then changes to modern day, and the girl has become a woman (Elaine Hendrix). Etta is slim and attractive, wearing a cutoff mini-skirt and a small top, and is shopping in a discount store. She accosts a nerdy-looking man shopping nearby to let her try a shirt on him, then proceeds to her wood-paneled station wagon where her two unruly sons are behaving badly. She gets in, and with a good-natured smile, asks what is going to happen when she cranks the car. The sheepish boys act like they don’t know what’s going on, so she pulls a box of tampons out of the bag and says to them that “the circus in town” and that she isn’t playing. The older boy upfront then turns off the wipers, turn signals, and everything else. The younger boy plays back a recording of her statement on a toy tape recorder, so looking in the mirror, the woman says, “Watergate,” and buys the tape from him for a dollar. We see here that Etta is good-natured but feisty.

The mother and sons then drive the countryside as modern country music plays and the rest of the credits roll. We learn that we’re in Myra, Georgia – population 2,214 – and see a small town, which includes quaint storefronts and also a strip joint called Shangri-La, which the boys ask their mother about. Then, they arrive at their father’s liquor store/invention shop whose sign reads “Beer Today Gone Tomorrow.”

Inside the little store, Etta pops open a cold drink as Chester watches. Chester (Luke Perry) has the full country-boy look: goatee and sideburns and shaggy hair coming out from his ragged baseball bap. She asks him in a playfully sultry way to change a dollar so their son can ride the pink mechanical elephant outside, and he gives it. However, Etta sees boxes of fireworks behind the counter and gets aggravated with her husband, fussing at him about how he wastes all their money on his schemes. He retorts that one will eventually work, and she gives him the shirt she has just bought for him, saying she will return the one he has on to get their money back. Outside, their younger son screams for help on the malfunctioning elephant, and Etta fusses at Chester, saying that their son will throw up in the car again. Chester just smiles.

Back home, which is complete with a dirt driveway, a screened front porch, and a tire swing, Etta and Chester are hosting another young couple. Chester and the other man Kyle are working on a muddy race car, revving the engine while putting on an air filter, and the women grill dinner and talk on the small deck nearby. Etta’s sister Pam (Lee Ann Rimes) is complaining that her guy – Kyle, the one in the race car – doesn’t talk to her anymore. Etta advises her to “shut down the funhouse for a while to show him that admission ain’t free.” Meanwhile, the boys tussle in the yard. When she tells them not to hurt each other, they go over to the car, but Etta isn’t happy with that either.

That night, in bed in the dark, Etta wakes Chester up to ask him not to talk to their sons about being on the pit crew on the race car. Chester asks what’s wrong with being a mechanic, and that starts a conversation about how Etta wants her boys to go to college. A frustrated Chester retorts that one of his inventions will hit, but the brief argument goes downhill quickly, and he leaves the bedroom with his pillow.

The next morning, as Etta looks over bills and cooks breakfast, the boys are trying to get hold of a pack of cigarettes on top of the entertainment center. They succeed, and as they head outside, Etta discovers the bill for Chester’s fireworks supplies. She calls him to complain of the $336 bill, but Chester claims that they’ll triple their money. Meanwhile, the boys have discovered the fireworks in the shed. They accidentally shoot a bottle rocket into the shed and blow the whole thing sky high. Chester’s investment is gone, and Etta is mad with him again.

As the town watches the impromptu fireworks show, which is put out by the volunteer fire department, we meet another minor character, the local lawman Sheriff Ernie. He reminds Chester that making fireworks is illegal in Georgia, but that he won’t arrest him as a personal favor.

The plot then speeds up a bit. As music plays over a montage, we see Chester trying to plead his way out of trouble with his wife, who is watching Antiques Roadshow on the TV while he talks. She sees that a mahogany table is fetching $7,000, and the wheels start turning. In the next scene, a masked robber points a gun at Chester in his store and takes the money in the register, and in a voiceover, we hear a dispatcher taking the robbery call. It is Etta who is the robber, and she hangs up the pay phone. Sheriff Ernie answers the call, finds Chester tied up, and the plot is set in motion.

In the wake of the robbery, Chester is trying to buy a gun, and Etta is buying an antique table from antique dealer Zachary. When Chester gets home, he is confused by the presence of a new table near his front door, and Etta lies about getting it from a dead uncle. Chester isn’t clear on this dead uncle, and he is further confused by Etta’s remark about the $800 he lost in the robbery. He had told her it was $200. She blows him off, though, and insists that he said eight. There is a knock at the door, and it is Sheriff Ernie, who we met earlier. He pretends as though he has come to arrest her, which holds Etta in her place, but Ernie laughs that off and comes in, asking for brownies. We can see that Etta is making mistakes and isn’t exactly an experienced criminal.

In the cafe at lunch, Ernie is drawing new inventions while Kyle eats. Pam, who is a waitress there, comes over to sit in Kyle’s lap and smooch on him. Chester makes a wisecrack about how much money she must make in tips, and she’s gone again to get them dessert. Shortly after that, Chester is behind his store, drawing again, and Etta brings him a sandwich for his lunch, remarking on how she is saving them money. They talk some more about their problems, and Chester shows her an Atlanta Braves pecan cracker that doesn’t quite work. Etta gets bugged with him when she hears that he’ll need to spend $1,100 to have one hundred of them made— once he gets it right.

Over to the grocery store, Etta is shopping with her boys when she runs into the antique furniture man Zachary, who recognizes her and encourages her to coming shopping again. She explains that she is out of money, but he continues anyway, and she has to give her young son more money to keep his trap shut. It’s clear from their interaction that the furniture man wants to more from Etta than to make a sale, and that trend is continued when she reaches the checkout lane. The elderly man who owns the store clearly wants some love, too, and is so obvious about it that Etta’s older son asks, “Why is he looking at you like that?”

Now, about one-third of the way through the movie, Good Intentions has lots of pieces to fit into place.  We’ve got Chester’s good-natured buffoonery, Etta’s family-oriented connivances, Pam’s mild desperation, Kyle’s aw-shucks meandering, along with a cast of minors characters, half of whom seem to want to have sex with Etta.

Now tempted by the lure of more antique furniture, Etta goes to Chester’s store to rob him again. Same ski mask, same rifle, and Chester recognizes the futility of resisting, so he hands over the cash— which goes straight to buying a Queen Anne chair. Meanwhile, when Sheriff Ernie gets the call about the robbery, he is getting it on with the blond cutie in the ice cream shop bathroom, and has to pull up his pants to go to work. The girl, who comes out pulling down her skirt, calls after him to ask if she still gets the beer he promised her. However, Ernie isn’t very helpful or effective. He unbinds Chester, who is taped to a chair, and attempts to take a report but gets outed by Chester for where he has just been. After they talk, he leaves with some beer (for the girl).

Back at home, Pam is folding laundry at Etta’s house and wants to know about the chair. She was frustrated to find out from Kyle (through Chester) that Etta has been inheriting furniture from a dead relative – which would also be her relative – and demands to know what’s going on. Etta tries to blow her off, but Pam isn’t having it. Their conversation is interrupted when Chester and Kyle arrive in the station wagon with a raging German shepherd that Chester has purchased as a guard dog. The only problem is that they left the manual for its commands in the car and don’t know how to call it off.

Later, coming out of the grocery store, with her old-man crush pushing the cart, Etta sees Kyle going into the titty bar. The old-timer tries to tell her, “There’s nothing wrong with a little harmless fun,” but Etta is having none of it. She crosses the street and takes Kyle’s own drill to his heavy-duty tires. The town’s two other deputies catch her in the act, but quickly let her go on about her business, since it’s a family matter. Next we see the characters, we have a little league ball game and small-town barbecue where Chester and Etta see Kyle and Pam fighting.

After the tire incident, while Chester is half-trying to keep his new dog from eating his customers, Etta is confronted by Kyle at the gas station about what she has done. He remarks to her while she pumps gas that he doesn’t make much money, and now, he has had to pay for tires with the money he would have spent on Pam. “And strippers,” Etta retorts. But Kyle doesn’t give up, letting her know that maybe she ought to get out of other people’s business. Though Etta rebuffs him with her back turned to him, she is later chewed out by Pam, who says that he had to spend the money for her engagement ring on the tires.

That evening, in town, Etta walks past the furniture shop, and Zachary jumps up to invite her in. There is the pretense that his interest is in a furniture sale, but they both know that it isn’t. Zachary then forces the situation and tries to kiss her, but Etta rebukes him. The problem, though, is that Sheriff Ernie sees part of what happens, and now thinks that Chester’s wife is cheating on him.

As we reach the one-hour point, Etta’s schemes are unraveling. Ernie goes to Chester to tell him about what he has seen. Chester goes to the furniture store first to confront Zachary, who is not there, but his wacky friend with the handlebar mustache is. The friend allows Chester to go into the file cabinet where the records are kept, so when Chester comes home, he confronts Etta with the evidence: sales slips for her purchases. She tries to excuse her behavior as making investments for their future, but in talking it out, Chester also figures out that it is her who has been robbing him. Before he leaves the house, though, he lets her in on the secret he found out earlier in the movie: the furniture is all fake.

Etta will now make another poor decision in one last attempt at getting it right. This time, she will rob her sweet old admirer in the grocery store. She leaves her wild children in the car again, enters yet another empty store – all of the stores in Myrna seem to be empty – and points the rifle at the old man. But while she is robbing him, waiting on the scared old man to open the safe, she sees a Polaroid he took of the two of them at the barbecue. Heartbroken by her own behavior, she drops the gun and leaves.

But her problems are only beginning. Outside, her sons have put the car in neutral, and it is rolling into oncoming traffic. Thankfully, Chester and Kyle are getting thrown out of the strip club across the street, and they amble out just in time to see the wood-paneled station wagon careening in front of a truck. The car rolls along, and eventually comes to stop when it hits the strip club sign across the street, knocking it over, and Etta comes running after it. Chester is now fully exasperated with Etta, but the kicker is when the old man calls after Etta and holds up the gun in askance. He can’t believe it was her that has just done that to him.

Everyone abandons Etta at that point. The old grocer walks back into his store, and Chester takes the kids. Etta is left – completely without consequences – to get into her old car, drive around, and feel sorry for herself.

As Good Intentions comes to a close, it is Pam who comes to the rescue, at once berating her for her selfishness and also reminding her that she is loved. Sheriff Ernie, urged forward by Etta’s tape recording of him doing the deed with the ice-cream girl, doesn’t arrest Etta for armed robbery or destruction of property, but launches into a scheme with her to get Zachary for selling fake furniture. All’s well that ends well, right? The bait is set, and armed with the newfound knowledge that Zachary is wanted in four states for a variety of crimes, our characters sell everything in his shop at 90% off and see that he is arrested. The cherry on top is knowing that he is put into a cell with a very large, very naked man.

The only thing left to do is make up with Chester. Back home, the boys are missing their mom, and she has learned her lesson. All of the loose ends have been tied up: Ernie will stop cheating on his wife with the ice-cream girl, Zachary is under arrest, and Pam and Kyle are on good terms. All except one. Etta takes the money from the sale of Zachary’s work and invests in not one but two orders of Chester’s now fully function Atlanta Braves pecan crackers. The best news is: she has already sold a few on eBay.

All in all, Good Intentions is a weak and forgettable attempt to use Southern quirkiness as a comedic foundation. The site Rotten Tomatoes has no reviews listed for the movie, and IMDb has its rating at 5.2 stars, both of which are telling. (One IMDb reviewer did give it 10 out of 10 stars and titled the review “Defines Southern,” but that misguided soul also left the content empty.) Good Intentions is not a bad movie . . . it’s just not a good movie. It’s a comedy, and that lightheartedness allows a film to get away with some things, like caricatures. For example, the movie follows the leader in painting small-town Southern law enforcement officers as a bunch of dummies who regularly exercise bias and who rarely do anything productive. And the storytelling also has its own flaws. First, the opening funeral scene has almost nothing to do with the story. Second, the filmmakers didn’t think out the whole liquor-store robbery thing. Throughout the movie, Chester’s store has almost no customers in it, but he gets robbed twice for hundreds of dollars. He would have to be busy all day for that much money to be in the register— yet, if the store were busy all day, the robbery wouldn’t be possible.

We don’t expect much from movies like Good Intentions . . . and that’s a good thing. However, they do work on the side of perpetuating negative stereotypes about the South. Myrna, Georgia seems to be populated by sex-crazed halfwits, like Sheriff Ernie’s ice-cream shop girl and the flirtatious septuagenarian at the grocery store, and the film’s characters seem to want something for nothing, like Chester’s search for the big-hit invention and the furniture man’s fake antiques. Among the all of the chicanery, we don’t really see an honest, forthright person (except maybe Pam or the very minor character of the black sheriff’s deputy). They’re basically a bunch of bullshitters, even the children, which makes Good Intentions little more than a newfangled version of Tobacco Road.

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