Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Two Men, Lost, Find Themselves Down The Scenic Route!

The Good: Engaging character study, Decent acting, Good direction
The Bad: Virtually plotless, Unrelenting mood.
The Basics: Scenic Route is very much a typical art house film in which two men talk, nothing really happens and the depths of human misery are plumbed.

August is looking like it will be a good month for art films this year. While some have real mainstream potential, others seem to be going simply for accepting their limited potential niche audience and relish that. Scenic Route, despite having the celebrity power of Josh Duhamel, is the latter type of film. With a limited set of characters and cast members, set in only two locations (one of which is a desert road), Scenic Route is very much what one expects of an art house flick. It is smartly-written, character-focused, and depressing as all hell.

Scenic Route is basically a buddy drama in which two friends who have been estranged for some time talk about their issues with one another before finding themselves caught in a struggle for their lives. Written by Kyle Killen, Scenic Route is a short film (just under ninety minutes) that feels long, as watching people suffer usually does. Like so many character studies, Scenic Route suffers some because it is unrelentingly depressing and the humorless exploration of realistic human misery and survival is more gut-wrenching and emotionally-manipulating than in any way satisfying or entertaining.

Opening on a desert road where a man with a broken foot beats another man (apparently to death), Scenic Route flashes back. The man with the broken foot is Mitchell, the man who is bludgeoned to death is Carter. Carter and Mitchell are driving in the truck through the desert when the truck apparently dies, waking Mitchell up. But when help arrives after an hour stranded, during which the two guys have a meaningful conversation, Carter reveals that he just pulled a wire from the truck to spark conversation between them. With the truth revealed, Carter rags on Mitchell and his new wife and family, accusing his old friend of simply settling for the first woman to come along after Karen (the woman Carter insists Mitchell was truly in love with) before the two realize they are truly stranded in the middle of the desert.

Angry with one another and exhausted, the two survive the day and into the night together. After confessing his infidelity on his wife, Joanne, Mitchell talks with Carter about his unfulfilled hopes and dreams. In the middle of the night, Mitchell lets Carter cut his hair in a Mohawk style. Unfortunately, the next morning when they awaken, their looks scare off the old woman who might otherwise have rescued them. Abandoning the truck, the pair begins to walk across the desert in search of the next dot which might represent a small town.

Much of Scenic Route is a conflict against the elements. For that portion of the film, the directors, Kevin and Michael Goetz, struggle to keep the movie meaningful. Despite who interesting the initial conflict is between Mitchell and Carter, when the struggle is between the two of them and the desert sun and heat, I found myself in the unenviable position of being indifferent. For a movie that is a character study, indifference is the death knell. As I discovered I did not actually care whether Mitchell and/or Carter survived the ordeal (or their fights with one another), Scenic Route started to fall apart.

The resolution to Scenic Route is all that saves it. The idea that living one’s life to the fullest is essential is a theme well-executed in this movie, though it takes an exceptionally long time to get there.

What does work very well is the initial conflict. Carter is the typical plus-sized sidekick character; he see’s the truth and is not entirely wrong about his analysis of his best friend. Fortunately, Killen and Scenic Route do not make that into the end-all and be-all of the character. Instead, of simply being a sage who serves as a mirror for Mitchell, Carter has unfulfilled hopes and dreams of his own and they are presented well-enough to make him seem viable independent of the film’s plot.

The last minute of Scenic Route adds some ambiguity to the resolution and pretty much cements the film as an art house style movie.

Scenic Route has Josh Duhamel giving a decent performance. Both he and Dan Fogler (Mitchell and Carter, respectively) get through their long monologues exceptionally well and they breathe life into two characters who are defined mostly by how they were years prior when they knew one another. Duhamel’s best moments are in the film’s climax and while those moments do not serve the character as much as the plot (or plot twist), Duhamel makes the viewer care about Mitchell in those moments.

But even with the potentially twisty end, Scenic Route is what it is and makes very little in the way of statements about life, existence or meaningful human relationships. The meaningful aspects of Scenic Route are diluted with near-misses for the character’s as they search desperately for rescue and that makes it harder to land than it could have been if it remained focused on the essential character conflicts which are initially intriguing enough to captivate the audience.

For other works with Josh Duhamel, please check out my reviews of:
Safe Haven
Movie 43
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon
When In Rome
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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