Friday, June 10, 2011

To Hellman and Back

Road to Nowhere (2010) - Hellman
As a fan of Monte Hellman, the famed director of the 70's seminal counter-culture classics such as Two Lane Blacktop and Cockfighter, it is very hard for me to report to other Hellman fans that Road to Nowhere, his new film in more than twenty years, is...umm...absolutely...dreadful. There I said it. Such is the burden of being the messenger of bad news.

Prior to the screening Hellman told the audience the advice he got from someone once- 'never explain your film, never apologize for your film and never reimburse tickets.' He succeeded in getting couple of laughs out of that. In retrospect, he wasn't joking. It was his ominous preemptive strike.

The film concerns a young, esteemed Hollywood director Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan) adapting a real life story involving intrigue, corruption and double suicide, dug up and sold by a young blogger (Dominique Swain). Haven finds his muse in an amateurish actress named Laurel (Shannyn Sossamon) and becomes infatuated with her while the rest of the cast and crew get increasingly frustrated by his devotion to her.

Road to Nowhere fancies itself to be a meta movie of sorts. It's a movie within a movie, life imitating art imitating life. Laurel might be the real person she is portraying, so is the film's co-star (Cliff De Young). There is an insurance investigator/film consultant (Waylon Payne) who can't seem to distinguish fiction from reality.

Written by Steven Gaydos (executive editor of Variety), the film's Hollywood savvy, corny dialog is just too earnest to be taken as ironic. All the actors involved are not skilled enough to improvise with the given material, making their characters unbearably vapid.

Hellman's contemplation of filmmaking as realizing one's dream in the age of internet and HD photography, gets lost in its trite, tabloid worthy premise. As the film ends with an amazingly terrible song sung by some Bruce Springsteen impersonator, one realizes that even the greatest director needs a good script (doesn't have to be written by Rudy Wurlitzer) and good actors to pull off a DIY style vanity project to be halfway decent.

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