American Reel (2003) Offers David Carradine in a Winning Performance
David Carradine fans will not be surprised to read that the versatile actor was also a singer/songwriter who wrote the songs he performed in American Reel. Starring Carradine, Michael Maloney, and Mariel Hemingway, American Reel is the story of a Willie Nelson-like artist (James Lee Springer, portrayed by Carradine) who never made it, primarily because he had a penchant for punching recording company executives.
After twenty years of teaching high school and playing in Hicksville, Ohio, clubs, James is reunited with Jason Fields (Michael Maloney), a manager who had previously tried to get him a recording contract. Fields still believes in Springer and his music, and is willing to go all out once again to get him a contract. With Fields’ help, connections, and promotion, Springer’s first release rises quickly to number one, and he has an album in the works. Unfortunately, record label executives change rapidly, affecting the demands on Springer, many of which he is reluctant to meet. Fields hires Disney Rifkin (Mariel Hemingway), a stand-up comedian, as Springer’s personal assistant, charged with keeping him from being depressed. She turns out to be both cynical and annoying.
American Reel follows Springer as he makes the rounds of recording companies with Fields, visits his family with Rifkin, and experiences brief stardom before changes at the label cause his album to be shelved. Carradine’s heartfelt performance reveals Springer to be a man with standards and beliefs who is uncomfortable with compromise, philosophical in a laid back fashion, and exceptionally earnest. It is another film for which I had low expectations but was happily surprised.
In many ways, American Reel lampoons the music industry, but does so almost gently. It is an intriguing journey through one man’s experiences and a rewarding viewing experience. Bonus features on the DVD (released March 20, 2012) include interviews with David Carradine and Michael Maloney, 12-song soundtrack, and a photo gallery.