IN 1989, after panicking and shooting a burglar who'd broken into his family's East Texas house, Richard (Michael C. Hall) deals with the fallout—including vengeful threats from the dead man's furious father, Russel (Sam Shepard). And for a little while, the dour and angry Cold in July feels like it might have something to say, particularly about guns and masculinity: Richard, rocking a fine '89 mullet, is dismayed and confused by what he's done, and he doesn't react well when his neighbors start congratulating him. "Didn't think you had it in you," one tells him. It's offered as witless compliment; Richard, thankfully, doesn't take it as one.
But then Cold in July—directed by horror director Jim Mickle (Stake Land, We Are What We Are) and based on a novel by Joe R. Lansdale—swerves in another direction, as Richard and Russel discover there might be more to the shooting than they thought. Alas, the resultant half-baked conspiracy is a bad fit for both Mickle's self-conscious direction and Hall and Shepard's low-key performances. Cold in July spends entirely too long grinding along until Don Johnson shows up, playing a private eye named "Jim Bob Luke" who drives a red convertible with longhorn steer horns mounted to the grill.
Eventually—with all of the first act's mystery and pretense at introspection abandoned—the three men forge an awkward vigilante trio, and Cold in July settles into a pulp-noir revenge flick, with Hall and Shepard moping around and Johnson bringing his welcome, easy levity to the otherwise grim proceedings.
By the time it bloodily, crudely wraps up, Cold in July isn't nearly as good or as insightful as it started out. Is it too goofy to end this review with a line about Don Johnson's wisecracks providing cold comfort? Because that's what I'm doing.