New life for ‘Redemption Road'

It was supposed to be released almost a year ago with the title, “Red, White and Blues.”

But the independent movie industry is an unpredictable beast, and even the director  is not sure why it was delayed.

Now, the Mario Van Peebles-directed tale of differences between men, fate and finding the path to a new beginning has been recast as “Redemption Road” and will open in eight cities Aug. 26, including Atlanta.

“It’s probably a better name for the film. I thought the other was misleading," Van Peebles said.

The always-busy director-actor steered this blues-steeped story that stars Morgan Simpson as Jefferson Bailey, a talented guitarist who drowns his demons in alcohol while lamenting his stage fright and the dead end turns in his life.

When a stranger played by the hulking Michael Clarke Duncan arrives in Bailey’s life, ostensibly to take him from Austin to Alabama to a safety deposit box left by Bailey’s late grandfather, the movie becomes, largely, a road trip.

Though “Redemption Road” is initially coated in shades of amber sadness, it brightens with Bailey’s, well, redemption. That eventual optimism is what Van Peebles most admires about the movie.

“I felt like it was a life-affirming movie,” he said last week, calling from downtown Atlanta while here for the Peachtree Film Festival. “There are a lot of films about people that are train wreck stories and you feel like you’re watching people lay down on the train tracks and wonder, ‘Why am I watching this?’ This is one of those times when you have people from very different walks of life figuring out how to identify the common denominators and grow beyond their differences in a real way.”

Van Peebles has been directing since the late-‘80s, with “21 Jump Street” and “Wiseguy” some of the first shows on his resume.

His father, Melvin Van Peebles, is a familiar name on both sides of the camera (1971’s “Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song” is regarded as a Van Peebles’ classic), and Mario didn’t have to push too much to get his father to make a cameo, as a bartender, in “Redemption Road.”

“My dad is cool. I’ve been directed by him. I’ve directed him. We’ve directed stuff each other has written. We have an agreement that if the movie sucks, I blame him and he blames me,” Van Peebles said with a laugh.

One thing the son was willing to tackle in the film was some singing. Filmed in Nashville, “Redemption Road” took full advantage of local talent, with Van Peebles and composer/music director Tree Adams recruiting several real-life blues and country singers to perform.

“Tree and I would go around to different clubs and in every club there was something great. It was really a melting pot. Every time you turned the corner, you found someone playing something you didn’t expect,” he said.

Van Peebles contributed “Pick Your Friends Wisely,” a thoughtful, Tom Waits-styled number, which he also wrote.

“My dad dabbled in country and I always enjoyed it. You can really tell a story. I wanted to do it, but the trick was performing it,” Van Peebles said, adding with another laugh, “Tree promised me ample groupies and then nothing came through!”

Now that “Redemption Road” is finally getting release attention, Van Peebles can turn his attention to his upcoming directorial efforts, “We the Party,” starring Michael Jai White and Snoop Dogg and the first episode of Kelsey Grammer’s new political drama, “Boss,” premiering on Starz in October.

Van Peebles said he looks to Clint Eastwood’s dual vocation as actor and director as one to emulate and has discussed his split career with fellow multi-tasker Jodie Foster.

“When I’m acting, I have no desire to direct, and vice-versa,” he said. “I hope to always be able to continue to do both.”

Movie preview

"Redemption Road"

Starring Morgan Simpson and Michael Clarke Duncan. Directed by Mario Van Peebles.

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some sexual content. At area theaters Friday . 1 hour, 31 minutes.