Now streaming as a “Tubi Original” exclusive to that platform, The Devil Comes to Kansas City is a strange and uneven film that makes good use of its shot-on-location Kansas City environs.
There’s no denying that the film aims high, mixing a classic folk legend, a sober modern sex-trafficking plot, and a supernatural element (the “devil” in the title? It’s literal).
The film opens with a depiction of the famous legend of Robert Johnson, a real blues musician who, as the story goes, met the devil at a midnight crossroads and sold his soul for in exchange for otherworldly guitar skills – a tale which will have future repercussions, setting the stage for elements of this story.
A former mercenary with a checkered past, Paul Wilson (Ben Gavin) now lives a quiet family life in rural Iowa with family. But when his wife and daughter are suddenly attacked by sex traffickers while visiting Kansas City, his killer instinct kicks back in and he set out to find them, no matter the cost – even to his soul.
What follows is a wildly uneven film that’s both more and less serious than, say, the rollicking “badass action” approach of Taken. On the one hand, it tries to treat its subject matter with appropriate weight. Paul isn’t a hero, and in setting out to retrieve his daughter, he’s willing to cross any line. It’s an approach fraught with darkness and brutality. On the other hand, the film goes into strange supernatural territory which is also a cool idea, but has a hard time meshing with the sober approach.
Turns out Paul’s old war buddy Randall (Robert Coppage) is a descendant of Robert Johnson, and like all men of his family, inherited the family’s association with Satan, and also gained a superpower – his is the supernatural ability to locate people.
With Randall’s intervention (and involving a gate to hell in the basement of KC’s famous Grinders restaurant), Paul discovers his daughter’s location and gets his own chance to make a deal with the devil (Kirk Fox) before storming the traffickers’ compound.
As a KC area resident, I enjoyed the hometown aspect of the movie, trying to spot locations and paying attention to addresses and street names referenced. This isn’t one of those movies that tries to pretend Australia is New York; the KC vibe is evident and it’s clear that a lot of the film was shot here. That said, the city depicted in the movie is a hotbed of sex trafficking, murder, corruption, and a literal gate to hell – not really a good look (or a particularly accurate one, I would like to think).
Overall the film’s vibe is kind of all over the place and I’m not sure what lesson it’s trying to impart. It seems unsure of whether Paul is good father or a vile torturer and murderer (bit of both?), and seems content to raise a lot of moral questions while having no interest in answering them. I really like the local talent and locations in this movie, but I didn’t particularly care for the movie itself.
– A/V Out.