Review: ‘Frank and Penelope,’ starring Billy Budinich, Caylee Cowan, Kevin Dillon, Lin Shaye, Johnathon Schaech, Donna D’Errico and Brian Maillard

June 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kevin Dillon, Caylee Cowan and Billy Budinich in “Frank and Penelope” (Photo courtesy of Redbud Studios)

“Frank and Penelope”

Directed by Sean Patrick Flanery

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas, the dramatic film “Frank and Penelope” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After a young man finds out his wife has been cheating on him, he runs off with a stripper, and they end up in a remote-area motel that’s run by deranged religious fanatics.

Culture Audience: “Frank and Penelope” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching tacky, bottom-of-the-barrel movies with confused tones and sloppy filmmaking.

Johnathon Schaech in “Frank and Penelope” (Photo courtesy of Redbud Studios)

With a plot about outlaw lovers on the run, and with flashes of quirky comedy, “Frank and Penelope” desperately tries to be like “Wild at Heart,” the 1990 film written and directed by David Lynch and starring Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. “Frank and Penelope,” which does everything wrong that “Wild at Heart” gets right, is a time-wasting bore with a nonsensical story and terrible acting. The movie is also a tonal mess, as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide if “Frank and Penelope” was going to be a crime drama, a horror movie or a dark comedy.

Sean Patrick Flanery, an actor who’s starred in his fair share of forgettable B-movies, makes his feature-film debut as a director and screenwriter with “Frank and Penelope.” Unfortunately, Flanery (who has a small role in “Frank and Penelope”) now has the dubious distinction of directing himself in one of the worst movies of his career. It’s not just a B-movie. It’s B-movie trash. How trashy is “Frank and Penelope”? There’s a scene where someone urinates on someone else’s face before shooting that person to death.

“Frank and Penelope,” which was filmed on location in Texas (including the Austin area), had the potential to be fun and interesting. And there are certainly enough talented cast members who could have brought a lot more charisma to the story than they’re allowed to bring in this train wreck. However, “Frank and Penelope” is derailed by too many half-baked ideas and shallow characters that are forced into the already weak and unoriginal plot.

Stop if you’d heard this plot before: A man and a woman, who’ve become lovers, are on the run together because they’ve (1) stolen money or committed another crime; (2) are trying to hide from someone who’s out for revenge; or (3) trying to evade law enforcement. And in some movies, such as “Frank and Penelope,” all of the above apply.

It all starts when Frank (played by Billy Budinich)—whose job is never revealed and who looks like he’s trying to be like a modern-day James Dean—comes home and is shocked to see his wife Becky (played by Cherilyn Wilson) having sex with an man named Chad (played by Mike Bash), whom Frank suspects is Becky’s fitness instructor. Becky and Chad don’t see Frank, who angrily to take off and go to a strip club. At the strip club, Frank is seduced by a dancer named Penelope (played by Caylee Cowan), who’s trying to be like a modern-day Marilyn Monroe, with a breathy baby-doll voice, but with a Texas twang.

Penelope is only turning on the charm with Frank so that she can steal his credit card, which she gives to the strip club’s sleazy, cocaine-snorting manager (played by Flanery), who doesn’t have a name in the movie. The manager ends up physically assaulting Penelope in a back room, but Frank hears the ruckus and comes to Penelope’s rescue. Penelope and Frank steal the manager’s gun and a small pile of cash before making their getaway. Frank and Penelope then have sex somewhere on the open road before they check into a remote-area, dumpy motel called the Quicksilver Motel, where strange things start to happen.

Meanwhile, the movie has a subplot about a traveler in her 20s named Molly Dalton (played by Sydney Scotia), who gets a flat tire on a deserted freeway. Molly doesn’t have a spare tire, so she reluctantly gets help from a creepy and greasy-looking driver named Cleve (played by Brian Maillard), who tows her car to the Quicksilver Motel, where he works at the front desk. On the way to the motel, scumbag Cleve rubs Molly’s leg inappropriately, and it looks like it will turn to sexual assault, but Molly stops him from putting his hand further up her leg.

The rest of “Frank and Penelope” is a back-and-forth slog about what Frank, Penelope and Molly experience at the Quicksilver Motel. The motel’s other employees who are seen in the movie are Cleve’s fanatically religious wife Mabel (played by Donna D’Errico), who is the motel manager and who also goes by the name Mabelline; a slovenly cook and handyman named Cookie (played by Charley Koontz); and Cookie’s downtrodden and mostly mute wife Magda (played by Jade Lorna Sullivan), who is a cashier in the motel’s diner.

Magda looks and acts like an abused and terrified woman with post-traumatic stress disorder. Lin Shaye has a useless cameo as a motel customer named Ophelia, who gets offended by Mabel’s religious preaching and leaves in a huff. The motel has a lounge with a table called the Truth Table, which Mabel uses to get customers to tell her the truth. Yes, this part of the plot is as bad as it sounds.

Kevin Dillon shows up as a stereotypical “out on a deserted freeway looking for trouble” cop named Sheriff Dalton, who crosses paths (at different times) with Frank and Penelope, as well as with Molly. Sheriff Dalton is a completely hollow character with no surprises. And then there’s a platinum-blonde weirdo named Chisos (played by Johnathon Schaech), who thinks he’s a messiah or a prophet. Chisos is seen in the movie’s opening scene and isn’t seen again until the last 30 minutes of the movie.

“Frank and Penelope” just rambles along with no real purpose and nothing that will make viewers really care about any of the characters. The sex scenes are unremarkable. As the “seductress” Penelope character, Cowan tries too hard to be coquettish. It all looks so forced and phony, including the movie’s attempt to make Budinich reminiscent of a 1950s movie star, similar to the aforementioned James Dean.

The fake-looking “romance” in the story isn’t helped when Penelope utters atrocious lines, such as saying she gets turned on when Frank shows “pure rage.” She adds, “If a man don’t fly into a rage, then he’s not in love.” But what Frank and Penelope have isn’t love. It’s just lust from two people who are desperate to run away from the lives that they had before they met each other.

And did we mention that most of this story is a flashback? It’s a flashback that’s being told by an unnamed hospital nurse (played by Sonya Eddy), who has Frank’s journal and is reading it aloud as part of the movie’s voice narration. Someone who was at the Quicksilver Motel is in a coma in this hospital, and this nurse is attending to him while he’s bedridden and while the nurse is reading Frank’s journal. Frank met Penelope four days before. Most of the movie shows what happened in those four days, because Frank kept a journal of what occurred, even though he’s such an airhead, he can barely articulate four sentences in a row.

Don’t expect the movie to explain why this nurse would have Frank’s journal. It’s an example of how ridiculous and pointless everything is in this garbage movie. There’s also some idiotic violence that does nothing substantial for the story. The end of “Frank and Penelope” makes it obvious that Flanery had a sequel in mind, but this movie is such an abomination to filmmaking, no one in their right mind will want a sequel.

Redbud Studios released “Frank and Penelope” in select U.S. cinemas on June 3, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on July 12, 2022.

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