There’s a new movie version of one of Knoxville’s most emblematic and enigmatic music-history stories, but, according to the current release schedule, you’ll have to drive a few hours (and wait another month or so) to see it on the big screen anywhere near Knoxville. And if early reviews are any indication, you might not want to bother.
The new country-music biopic The Last Ride, based on the last few days in the life of legendary honky-tonk singer and songwriter Hank Williams, is currently playing in Los Angeles after a week in New York in late June. Additional runs are scheduled in Dallas and Phoenix for July, with openings on Aug. 10 in Nashville and Atlanta.
The Last Ride, directed by Harry Thomason (Designing Women, The Blue and the Gray), tells the story of Williams’ final days and death, sometime on Dec. 31, 1952, or Jan. 1, 1953. Williams and a driver, on the way from Montgomery, Ala., to concerts in West Virginia and Ohio, stopped briefly in Knoxville along the way. While Williams is generally assumed to have died in the car after leaving Knoxville, at least one biographer, Colin Escott, contends that he died in his room at the Andrew Johnson Hotel on Gay Street, and then his body was loaded into the car. (Jack Neely wrote a cover story on Williams’ death and legacy in 2002.)
The Last Ride has a solid C-list cast: Henry Thomas, best remembered as Elliot from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, plays Williams, with Fred Thompson (Law & Order, The Hunt for Red October, ex-Tennessee senator and one-time presidential candidate), Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory), and Stephen Tobolowski (Groundhog Day, Deadwood, Heroes). But the early reviews aren’t promising. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives The Last Ride a 36 percent score, based on 11 reviews, ranging from the Los Angeles Times (“Dramatically thin, formally uninspired and thematically weak”) to Slant (“A typical wax-museum reproduction of the American South in which every detail is Southern in bold all caps, and not a single scene over the course of the film’s 102 minutes rings true.”). The only unhesitatingly positive review listed at RT is by an Arkansas critic—the movie was filmed there—who knows Thomason and counts executive producer Tim Jackson among his friends.
If you’re still curious, you can beat the Nashville and Atlanta crowds—the DVD release of The Last Ride is scheduled for July 10.