Tollbooth seems to be attempting an emulation of Guy Ritchie style, but instead ends up feeling like a dollar-bin discount version. Most people’s lives are unremarkable, an opening-movie narration tells us, and that is absolutely the case with the shady individuals we follow in the film. A lack of grit or grime automatically sets it short from being true Ritchie; a movie like this needs an impressive ensemble to carry it across the finish line, and Tollbooth simply does not have the pedigree.
Focusing on Brendan (Michael Smiley), a toll-booth operator with a shadowy criminal past, the appropriately-named Tollbooth takes shape on the back of Brendan’s metaphorical chickens finally coming home to roost. When enemies discover Brendan’s whereabouts, they converge on his location. At the same time, annoying traffic cop Catrin (Annes Elwy) does some snooping of her own. Not even the locals will divulge Brendan’s true backstory, instead electing to recount the events of The Shawshank Redemption. As Brendan gets a haphazard crew together in preparation for a shootout, Catrin becomes wrapped up in the excess.
At one point during their interactions, Brendan tells Catrin that he is reading a book about a man with a really boring life—“nothing ever happens to him.” It is almost as if he is describing the movie itself. Though there is a modicum of excitement when it comes to the big showdown near the end, Tollbooth makes the fatal error of having its central character, Brendan, completely paper-thin. The supporting cast is way more interesting, with my favorite of the bunch being Games of Thrones and Misfits actor Iwan Rheon as Dom, who does Brendan’s dirty work.
Tollbooth is ultimately unsatisfying, and not cohesive in any way. The disparate characters fail to form a coherent whole. An afterthought or just poor writing? It is hard to pinpoint the biggest flaws. A mid-movie scene with two female robbers thinking they are about to have a huge payday is funny and entertaining, but there isn’t enough fun to be had in this mostly-straightforward dark comedy.
Tollbooth requests fee for entry when it premieres nationwide to all Video On Demand platforms on Friday, March 18th.