The last of three well-intentioned but hopelessly amateurish melodramas that writer/producer/director Horace Jackson made about the African-American experience, Deliver Us from Evil (later reissued as Joey) crams a hell of a lot of story into 96 minutes. Very broadly, the picture concerns the fateful intersection of a tormented man, a disabled child, a socially conscious grade-school recreation director, and a gang of drug-dealing thugs. There’s also a subplot about a young woman who appears in stage shows that dramatize troubles bedeviling her community, plus another subplot about a white cop struggling to understand systemic racism. Even a filmmaker of sublime storytelling ability would have difficulty balancing this many disparate elements. Jackson, despite his obvious desire to edify audiences, is not a filmmaker of sublime storytelling ability. Quite the opposite. Deliver Us from Evil sloppily connects badly constructed scenes, so not only is it difficult to track the narrative, it’s hard to take any single moment seriously because the writing, directing, and acting are substandard.
After Chris (Renny Roker) is released from a mental institution, he encounters awful racists everywhere, so he’s understandably edgy. One day while driving, he spots a woman named Mindy (Marie O’Henry), who is stranded with car trouble, so he offers her a ride. Yet because Chris drives like a maniac, Mindy demands to leave his car. Upon doing so, she slaps Chris, so he chases her to a house where she visits wheelchair-bound Little Joe (Danny Martin), one of the students at the school where she works. Subsequently, Chris befriends Little Joe and starts dating a friend of Mindy’s. Meanwhile, a local street gang begins selling drugs at Mindy’s school, so she stands up to them, causing gang members beat Mindy and Little Joe. You get the idea. In trying to address a laundry list of social issues, Jackson creates an experience that’s confusing, grim, and preachy. (In one scene, Little Joe demonstrates his newfound ability to recite the Lord’s Prayer.)
By the time Deliver Us from Evil climaxes with a nonsensical act of violence and a direct-to-camera speech about the futility of black-on-black violence, Jackson has fully succumbed to his worst inclinations, sacrificing narrative cohesion for ungainly rhetoric. It’s a pity, because while Jackson had many worthwhile things to say, he never found effective ways of saying them.
Deliver Us from Evil: FUNKY