I don’t spend a lot of time on titles. They exist to get an audience excited about a movie and to frame the story. A compelling title is always nice, but I rarely judge a movie based on it. There are great titles like “Inception,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” There are confounding ones like “Doctor Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” or “Octopussy.” Still, nothing is worse than something generic—a title everyone making the film seemed to have just given up on to properly mark the finished feature.
If there were a competition for “most generic movie title of the year,” “Don’t Let Go” would be in fierce competition with “Ready or Not” for the 2019 crown. Like the title track from a run-of-the-mill pop star’s awful debut album, it’s almost completely bereft of meaning. The film itself is an equally generic event; though, there’s a lot more effort put forth than the title suggests.
Jack Radcliff (David Oyelowo) is an intense, dedicated police officer and an attentive uncle to his niece Ashley (Storm Reid). Ashley is a smart kid with a screw-up for a father. When Ashley’s dad (Brian Tyree Henry) forgets to pick her up from the movies, Jack swoops in, offering a brief window into their relationship. This is convenient, since Ashley is about to be brutally murdered. Her death is a tough pill for Jack to swallow and becomes even tougher when internal affairs gets up in his grill about any potential involvement.
Jack takes matters into his own hands and starts digging into the case. Then something weird happens: He gets a phone call from Ashley. Jack is immediately suspicious. As a veteran detective, he knows dead people rarely make phone calls. In spite of his initial skepticism, he comes to believe he’s talking to Ashley through the power of time travel. (Since the call is two weeks late, I’m assuming he’s using Boost Mobile.)
The pair embark on an alternate-timeline adventure, as Jack tries to figure out who killed Ashley and how he can stop her murder from happening again.
It’s a marginally interesting premise—a new twist on time travel that also happens to be convenient for low-budget producer Blumhouse. Much of the film feels like a slightly off-brand episode of “Black Mirror” or “The Twilight Zone.”
“Don’t Let Go” falls somewhere between “good” and “unwatchable.” There’s nothing really bad about it. Oyelowo is a talented actor who plays a straight-laced protagonist Denzel Washington made a career doing. In Washington’s case, his natural charisma vastly improved otherwise middle-of-the-road fare, like “The Equalizer” and its sequel. Here, there isn’t much scenery for Oyelowo to chew, and the end product suffers because of it.
The rest of the cast is perfectly adequate; though, there isn’t a standout performance worth mentioning. The story plods along predictably and every single reveal or twist is pretty obvious unless you’ve never seen a crime thriller involving the police.
Writer-director Jacob Estes never creates anything with material more interesting than its premise. There are no layers—no depths are plumbed or unpredictable drama unearthed. The potentially exciting logline never morphs into an exciting movie. It feels like a segment of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” extrapolated into an entire feature (spoiler alert: Bill and Ted did it better).
Still, I didn’t dislike the movie. It reminded me a lot of “Looper,” another film that introduces a time travel element only to waste it. The lesson: An interesting concept doesn’t guarantee an interesting story. Like its title, “Don’t Let Go” is exceptionally average.