8/05/2013

Review: 'The Canyons', Starring Lindsay Lohan and James Deen


So what exactly is Paul Schrader going for with The Canyons? Is it an erotic B-movie sleaze fest? Or pointed commentary on the state of the movie industry? He seems to be aiming for the latter, as the film opens with a series of ghostly images of rundown, long abandoned movie theaters backed by an ominous score. His point, supported by the Kickstarter-funded path he took to getting the film made, is that traditional views of cinema are dead. The moviegoing experience we've all come to expect is no more. What exactly this has to do with the shallow, disaffected cast of misfits who populate The Canyons is a question you'll be asking yourself until the credits finally, thankfully roll. More than likely it was a warning about the ruinous 100 minutes the viewer is about to endure.

The Canyons isn't another bad movie; the weeks' new releases are littered with those. No, it's exceptionally terrible and the sort of high-profile embarrassment that would get people fired if there was a studio backing it. But this is worse because YOU paid for it, America, and yet don't have the power to really make anyone's head roll over it. There's something fundamentally undemocratic about that, isn't there? Schrader, whose aloof and observational approach would seem to be a perfect match for braggadocios author/screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis' love of the bored and vapid, delivers an uninteresting movie about uninteresting people in the movie biz.

The last few weeks have seen Schrader attempting to convince people that this isn't just the Lindsay Lohan porn movie, but the sad thing is it would be more interesting if it was. Certainly the scummy mood, stilted dialogue and half-baked acting have it resembling those comically terrible Brock Landers movies from Boogie Nights. And to be fair, it's not really Lohan's fault. Perhaps she's drawing from her own troubled, empty life, but she makes the most out of a badly written character in a cesspool of badly written ones. She plays Tara, the spoiled arm candy to Christian (James Deen), a soulless, arrogant, and Machiavellian rich kid who wields his power as a producer of crappy movies like a weapon. Not that he really truly cares about any of it, and in true Ellis fashion he only does it so daddy won't put a freeze on his trust fund.

What really drives Christian is the ability to control and manipulate others, most especially Tara. He can't stand the idea that she has any sort of life that doesn't revolve around him, so he begins to go a little crazy suspecting she may be sleeping around with Ryan (Nolan Funk), the hunky lead in his new low-budget horror movie. Ryan, who lives with Christian's naive assistant Gina (Amanda Brooks), only got the job at Tara's urging, which adds fuel to the speculative fire. This is one of those movies where everybody lies and then lies about the lies, and the truth only comes out when it can cause the most emotional damage. So when he's not obsessing over her infidelity, Christian sleeps around with whoever he wants, and then scours the Internet for random dudes/couples to bang Tara while he occasionally participates. Without much in the way of rhyme or reason it veers into psycho-thriller territory, perhaps in a lazy attempt to recall the psychotic wackos of Ellis' American Psycho or The Rules of Attraction. Those films at least had competent acting behind them with Christian Bale and James Van Der Beek (last time you'll see him praised on this site!), while Deen acts like someone who has never been asked to do much beyond drop his pants. Glimpses of the old Lohan peek through now and again, and with her aged-beyond-belief face and nervous twitchiness, she resembles a wannabe starlet who has seen and done too much. It's not a perfect performance, sometimes she wildly misplays a scene's emotional beats, but it's good to see her not phoning this one in. The same can't be said for Gus Van Sant, the director who makes an unnecessary cameo as Christian's psychiatrist. Perhaps he had another movie shooting next door and wandered in, but whatever the reason he shouldn't have been there.

Perversion and depravity would seem to jibe well with Ellis' usual explorations of the superficial, but a micro-budget coupled with ill-prepared talent and a flat script is too much to overcome. Sluggish pacing stretches an already interminable runtime, and with all of the shoddy elements The Canyons resembles test subject put together by a bunch of amateurs, but definitely not the work of seasoned professionals.