Sonny Carl Davis has been around the Austin movie scene since starring in Eagle Pennell’s 1977 short “A Hell of a Note.”
That short about two rowdy good ol’ boys in Texas morphed into the 1978 feature film “The Whole Shootin’ Match,” and that led to yet another feature, 1983’s “Last Night at the Alamo.”
Like the characters he has played on screen, Davis has had an up-and-down career at times, but you have to hand it to him. He has still stayed busy in the business, appearing as a minor character in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” where he gave grief to Judge Reinhold’s hapless food worker at the local mall, and in Richard Linklater’s “Bernie,” where he tried to explain Texas.
More recently, he was the “diner guy” in Linklater’s anti-Ted Cruz commercials. And his latest is “Buck Alamo,” which premiered at the Austin Film Festival and went on to win the Audience Award Texas Independent Feature.
Dallas native Ben Epstein, who splits him time between Austin and Los Angeles, directs Davis as Eli Cody, who has adopted the name Buck Alamo. He’s had a rocky musical career and an even rockier life, and bums money from friends and family and sells geodes on South Congress. If you’ve lived in Austin for long, you know the type.
Near the beginning of the film, Buck gets the news from his doctor: He doesn’t have long to live. So Buck, full of regret for past mistakes but not so full of an ability to express his remorse properly, sets out to visit his estranged daughter, Dee (Lee Eddy), who lives in a well-to-do Austin neighborhood with her husband and kids and sports a Beto T-shirt.
Dee is not amused by Buck’s arrival. In fact, she’s furious. But Buck hangs around, figuring he might be able to wheedle some money out of Dee’s husband.
Buck also has another daughter, Caroline (Lorelei Linklater), who lives near Buck’s shack on the outskirts of town with her husband and son. She and her husband seem to be making mistakes similar to those Buck made, snorting cocaine and hiding Buck’s guns and drugs from a parole officer who shows up for a check-in. (We don’t get specifics on what Buck did time for.
In the midst of all this, Buck starts having visions of Death, voiced by Bruce Dern, as well as snakes rattling across his house’s floors. And that plays into the film’s subtitle, “A Phantasmagorical Buck Alamo.”
Epstein, making his debut feature film, shows a knack for narrative as well as pacing. But he was wise to choose Davis for his title role. Davis still has that spark and wit that commands attention.
At one point, Davis’ Buck starts talking about a Townes Van Zandt song, “Waitin’ Around to Die,” a performance of which was featured in the recent documentary “Heartworn Highways.”
Buck is waitin’ around to die, too. But it’s not morbid. Like Van Zandt, he has a bit of singin’ to do.