Scenic Route: SXSW Review

Scenic Route SXSW Film Still - H 2013
Courtesy of Scenic Route

Scenic Route SXSW Film Still - H 2013

Ups and downs become predictable in desert-set survival film

The Goetz brothers' debut film strands Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler in Death Valley.

AUSTIN — Death Valley is no place to heal strained friendships in Scenic Route, a two-hander whose performances aren't as well matched as they might have been. Directors Kevin and Michael Goetz offer an audience-friendly embodiment of a scenario much like that of Gus Van Sant's Gerry, but the film is less harrowing than it intends to be and has limited commercial prospects.

When Izod-wearing Mitchell (Josh Duhamel) and his unemployed old pal Carter (Dan Fogler) break down on a seldom-traveled stretch of desert road, Carter initially treats it as an opportunity for a come-to-Jesus talk: Your wife has made you a yuppie drone, he suggests; you should go back to your cool girlfriend, start playing guitar again and be a jobless dreamer like me, so we can sit around having cool conversations all the time.

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To Carter's surprise, this lecture and the circumstances of its delivery don't go over well. Mitchell has a thing or two to say about the way Carter lives his life, and the confrontation between the two looks set to end the friendship in the middle of nowhere. Fogler makes a less-than-ideal spokesman for the Bohemian ethos: It's easy to buy him as a good-timing underachiever, but not as a struggling novelist with something worthwhile to say. Duhamel, on the other hand, projects both a self-awareness about life's compromises and a clear-eyed view of his critic's faults. There's little competition between the two, despite the fact that most of what Carter's saying is true.

Kyle Killen's screenplay soon becomes a transparently tit-for-tat scheme: The friends trade rants, retreat, trade apologies and repeat. Then one ill-considered comment leads to a fight whose violence -- sufficient to leave one man at death's door -- isn't credible for such good friends, no matter what has been said in the last few hours.

The movie becomes a survival tale and is more successful in its grueling, slightly crazed second half. The Goetzes do a better job capturing the terrain's physical extremes and the challenge of endurance than they do depicting a relationship, and while we're still treated to a couple of head-slapping decisions, we can no longer predict exactly where things are going. The conclusion they and Killen arrive at will remind viewers of the finale of a recent hit series, but the twist is reasonably satisfying given the stakes the film has created.

Production company: Anonymous Content
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Dan Fogler
Directors: Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz
Screenwriter: Kyle Killen
Producers: Brion Hambel, Paul Jensen, Luke Rivett, Scott Freeman
Executive producers: Josh Duhamel, Paul Green, Keith Redmon
Director of photography: Sean O'Dea
Production designer: Elizabeth Jones
Music: Michael Einziger
Costume designer: Sheila Hume
Editor: Kindra Marra
Sales: Paul Green, Anonymous Content
No rating, 86 minutes