Friday, October 25, 2013

Scenic Route

I love a good drama now and then. Sure the dramas that populate cinemas nowadays are huge, broad and epic in scope with large casts and equally large budgets. I like my dramas simple and to the point. The lower the number of characters and less complicated the better. Scenic Route fits that bill perfectly for the most part. It may not be a horror movie of the slasher variety, but it sure is a psychological one.

Two longtime friends, the uptight Mitchell (Josh Duhamel) and the unemployed Carter (Dan Fogler), take a cross country road trip to re-connect. When their truck breaks down in the middle of the desert they begin to come apart at the seams and verbally attack each other with increasing ferocity.
Events in Scenic Route follow the stage play formula pretty closely. For the most part it’s just two actors in one location talking to/screaming at one another for ninety minutes. When it is doing just that this flick is aces. The script by Kyle Killen is well written and the two characters, while highly cliché, are well drawn and somewhat likable at the start. One more than the other obviously since that’s always how these types of stories pan out. I have a feeling that Killen comes from a theatre background and I like his writing here.

Directors Kevin and Michael Goetz are new to the scene having only one short film to their credit. They know their way around the genre very well and have a handle on making the film feel as desolate and dread filled as the desert the characters are stranded in. They also know how to get their actors to deliver some unexpected knockout performances.
Josh Duhamel (the Transformers films), aka Fergie’s husband, is clearly trying to shrug off his action star/pretty boy image and show off his range as a dramatic actor. Surprisingly he pulls it off. He gives a grounded and fierce turn as uppity businessman Mitchell, who is the complete opposite of his co-star. Dan Fogler (Fanboys, Balls of Fury, Take Me Home Tonight), also trying to move away from his usual typecasting as the comic relief guy as seen in Europa Report. As the listless deadbeat dreamer Carter he shows off a range I’ve never seen before. Even through all the stupid and selfish things he does to re-connect with his pal he still remains somewhat likable. If he continues along this route he could eventually become this generation’s Tom Hanks; transitioning from being a comedic actor to a dramatic one with much aplomb.

The script smartly has them begin to pick apart each other’s life decisions bit by bit, be it one person marrying the wrong woman to another giving up on his writing gift. From there things begin to get violent as their hope of rescue begins to dwindle and events turn bloody. I won’t give too much away, but things escalate to a place I didn’t expect and I was thankful that the filmmakers did so in order to save me from the trappings of so many similar stories.
And then things get dumb. Real dumb. Like epically dumb.

The characters begin to do things that are so damned stupid that it looks like they don’t even want to be rescued even though that’s all they talk about. And things get progressively worse and worse until I totally checked out. It’s as if Killen ran out of juice at the halfway point and just decided to base the rest of the movie on a series of notes he had written on flash cards that he randomly drew out of a hat. The directors don’t seem to know how to properly make these scenes work within the context of the film, so I’d have to say that it felt as if I was watching two different 45 minute movies. It’s such a disaster that when the movie ended I had totally sworn off the superior first half due to the god awful second.
I get what the intentions of the movie were. I really do. It was just pulled off in the worst way imaginable. Inexperience rears its ugly head at every turn and not even the performances can salvage how bad this flick gets in the last act. I’d have to say that this was one of the biggest missed opportunities I’ve seen recently next to Curse of Chucky. Profoundly disappointing. 

I fear that the current trend of second tier Hollywood stars producing a low budget horror film as a starring vehicle for themselves is a bad idea. Jessica Biel tried this with The Tall Man, and now Josh Duhamel has done the same with Scenic Route. Both received a limited theatrical release and essentially went straight to VOD with little fanfare and/or critical applause to back it up. Both of these films had a strong first half and fell apart afterward. It’s sad really because this had some potential.

Maybe Josh Duhamel shouldn’t have backed out of Transformers: Age of Extinction after all…

2 out of 5

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