There’s a special kind of movie like Roads to Riches, one that isn’t so bad as to be unwatchable, but everything about it is unremarkable, leading to a very odd experience. You sit through the film, rarely thinking about anything that it presents, and when it’s over you’re aware that you watched a movie, and that it wasn’t awful, but you struggle to remember anything about it. It’s the most mediocre of films. It can kill some time and not be unpleasant, but seeking it out is definitely not recommended.
The basic idea here has Robert Forster playing a down-on-his-luck gambler named Jack, who, at the start of the film, loses on a game show that seems awfully fixed. New in town is Henry (Kip Pardue), a fresh-faced Texan, who needs a place to stay. The two meet and bond and soon enough, we learn that Henry is lucky, so Jack keeps him around. There’s also a Moira (Rose McGowan), a stripper who starts us off on a love triangle that nobody will care about by the time the film ends. This is despite it being the main focus for much of the second act.
It’s a bit hard to pinpoint the tone or even the point of a movie like Roads to Riches. At times, it plays out like a contradiction, while at others it seems like it wants to make a point. Some philosophical dialogue is brought up and then never acted or touched on again. The film switches topics and even genres between scenes. It’s a confusing motion picture to pin down, and that might be the only reason it’s worth thinking about. Trying to figure out just what the aim was actually turns it into something fairly interesting.
I mean, that doesn’t excuse lackluster filmmaking, but at least there is a small sliver of hope in an otherwise unimportant movie. According to the movie, “hope is the strongest of human emotions,” so perhaps it can use that idea and make itself worthwhile. I don’t really know. It seems like it was put together by a bunch of different directors, each of whom got one or two scenes and that’s it. And then it was put together by one person trying to stitch a loose narrative to tie it all together.
I’m sure that’s not the case, but it’s what the finished product feels like. Michelle Gallagher is the only director listed in the credits, which would make this her directorial debut. I suppose it’s functional enough, in that it tells its story and it all adds up — at least, right up until the end, when magic happens. But let’s not dwell on that, because that would be spoiling and I wouldn’t want to do that to a film that you’ve likely never heard of and will probably never see.
Actually, no, let’s talk about the ending. The love triangle comes to a head, it seems like all the characters are going to go their separate ways — Jack will fake finding a dead rat in his soda pop so he can sue for a lot of money, Henry will return to Texas, and Moira will commit seppuku. Then, everyone backs out. Henry decides that killing an innocent rat to make $1 million isn’t worth it, Moira — perhaps the only character with death — is a “coward” about it, and Jack just kind of hangs around.
And then, out of nowhere, a scratch card flies down from the sky, giving Henry $50,000. Sure, Henry had won that money himself earlier on, but because of how much he cared about Moira, he ignored the result; we saw it, but it doesn’t matter because the relationship is more important. But now it flies in out of nowhere, and then we see Jack on a bus, smiling, knowing that everything’s going to be okay. So, did he cause this to happen? Is he really magical? Does that explain why everyone in Los Angeles seems to instantly fall in love with him?
It’s things like this that might make you want to go back and reevaluate what you’ve just seen. It’s almost like a twist ending, except that instead of adding something original it’s an attempt to shoehorn in a happy conclusion. What it should have done is had its philosophical babble early on relate to each character, and then have the characters end their story in a way that represents that philosophy. That would have been interesting and worth seeing.
I suppose if you’re a fan of either of these three actors, you’ll have something to appreciate in Roads to Riches. Each of the actors is fine, and if you like them then there’s a good performance here to satisfy you. It would have been nice for them to be a part of something special, but often times, that just can’t happen, for a variety of reasons. At least it’s an unoffensive mess, unlike many other low-budget indie movies that are just so terrible you can’t help but laugh.
Roads to Riches isn’t exactly bad, but it was constantly in search of a purpose, and contradicted itself in that quest. It needed more of a complete vision going in, instead of an approach which led to it feeling confused and unsure of what it wanted to accomplish. The ending is where it really begins to fall apart; what could have been revelatory was just silly and pointless. It does have a few good performances, and it’s not bad enough to be worth turning off midway through, so if you see it on television and you’re really bored, it might just be able to kill the time.