Scenic Route (Kevin and Michael Goetz, 2013)
Scenic Route was a movie I went into expecting to not like all that much. As far as I can tell, it was basically DTV after playing a few festivals, it showed up on the “Popular on Netflix” list on instant streaming (usually the things I add from that list show up in the bottom 10% of my queue when I sort by rating descending; Scenic Route was an exception, showing up about halfway down). It stars Josh Duhamel, who hasn’t made a good picture since Turistas, and Dan Fogler, who hasn’t made a good movie since… well, never. Directed by brothers turning in their first feature and written by a TV guy, though he has turned in one feature script before—for the almost-legendary Jodie Foster-directed bomb The Beaver. (Yeah, the Mel Gibson hand puppet movie.) I figured I’d be hitting play on this one and, ninety minutes later, starting to write a review so legendarily bad I would be getting hate mail about it long into the next century. More fool me, because I have, as of this writing (Jan. 5, 2014), so far seen thirty pictures that were released in 2013, and I would put Scenic Route in the top five. All of these pieces that should not fit together in any way combined to make something special.
Plot: Mitchell (Duhamel) and his childhood friend Carter (Fogler) are in the middle of a roadtrip when their truck breaks down in the middle of the desert. At the beginning of the ordeal, they seem to be friendly enough about it, but as time goes on and they realize they might be out there without food and water for an extended period of time, the needling gets sharper and more bitter. Will they get rescued before they end up killing each other?
I know the last sentence of that synopsis makes this movie seem like a comedy. It is, as long as you realize it is not only a comedy, and as long as you realize the comedy is about as black as they come; I’m not sure I’ve seen a more mean-spirited comedy since Very Bad Things. Stephen King described the kinds of arguments that punctuate this movie as arguments that go back and rip off all the old Band-Aids, making all the wounds fresh again. (It’s somewhere in ‘Salem’s Lot if you want to go looking.) Mitchell and Carter have spent their entire lives telling each other all their secrets, as well as observing each other’s bad choices, so there’s a lot of ammo there.
In order to make it all work, though, putting aside an ambiguous, and quite wonderful, ending that is endlessly debated on the IMDB message boards, you have to have enough of an ear for dialogue that people who get involved in these kinds of arguments will listen to these characters and say “yes, that’s exactly how it goes.” I did exactly that at least a dozen times during this movie. Who knew Killen should have been writing about arguments instead of hand puppets?
On the downside, it’s a (mostly) two-person movie set (mostly) in the middle of the desert. That is exceptionally tough to pull off from a pacing standpoint. My Dinner with Carter this movie is not; there are places where the already-pedestrian pace flags even more, though in the movie’s defense they are relatively short pieces and can be seen as the filmmakers trying to instill a minor sense of what the characters are feeling. If that interpretation is correct, it doesn’t work. Still, that’s a relatively small downside for a no-budget movie that came out of left field and smacked me upside the head; I liked this one something fierce. *** ½