Judge Gordon Sullivan now plans to travel only interstate and eat fast food.
Surviving the elements is one thing.
Traveling is stressful. There's getting to your destination, figuring out where and when to eat, making time for bathroom breaks, and the general way your body's clock gets out of whack once you leave the comforts of home. All that assumes that things go relatively well. That's why they say that any relationship that can survive travel is a solid one. Then, of course, there's those trips that go horribly, horribly wrong. Throw in a broken-down and strained relationship, and you've got a recipe for a good buddy comedy. Or, in the case of Scenic Route, a character-slash-thriller. The premise is pretty novel, and the performances are strong, so viewers with decent expectations won't be disappointed.
As Scenic Route opens, a muddy, bloody, and mohawked Mitchell (Josh Duhamel, Transformers) is using a crutch to beat Carter (Dan Fogler, Balls of Fury) in a desert setting. He ends the scene exhausted, staring at the camera. Once the credits roll, we're taken back in time: Mitchell is a relatively successful middle-class dude who's dissatisfied with his life, while Carter is a struggling writer living out of his truck. They were childhood friends, so Carter suggests a road trip to find themselves and reconnect. Everything is fine until the truck breaks down and the two start to go at each other, getting increasingly savage.
Scenic Route plays out like Gerry remade in the style of Due Date. Scenic Route shares with Gerry the violence and desert setting. With Due Date, it shares the "successful guy rides with less successful 'creative' type" (also Duhamel and Robert Downey Jr. are the "hot" ones, while Zach Galifianakis and Dan Folger are the overweight/not-hot ones). Since there isn't much original about the film itself, much of the success comes down to execution.
The film is scripted by Kyle Killian, a guy who's made a name for himself as a writer whose work revolves around interesting premises: The Beaver finds Mel Gibson talking to a puppet, while Awake is about a cop struggling with the fact that he lives parallel lives, one of which might be a dream. Scenic Route isn't as fanciful as either of those scripts, but the core story is obviously not straightforward. His script does a fine job delineating these characters and making us care about a film that is mostly two guys stuck in the desert.
These characters are wonderfully brought to life by Duhamel. Those who think he's just a pretty boy after seeing his turns in the Transformers franchise should give him another shot. Though his action films haven't given him much to do, films like this one and Life As We Know It show that he's got range and could jump out to leading man status in a big way with the right script. Here he does a fine job of being both sympathetic while becoming increasingly frustrated and irrational. Dan Fogler is the perfect comic foil. His timing is perfect, and he too manages to be pretty sympathetic despite his major screwups and obvious baiting of his friend.
First-time feature directors Kevin and Michael Goetz do a solid job bringing these characters to life. There are lots of gorgeous shots of the desert, and the editing of the various sequences feels tight but with room for the characters to grow. As tension mounts the camera gets more mobile, and the Goetz brothers keep a movie about two guys lost in the desert visually interesting throughout.
Scenic Route also gets a solid DVD release. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer does a fine job with the sun-baked exteriors: detail is strong, colors are well-saturated, and black levels during the night scenes are pretty deep and consistent. Some of the night shots can be a bit noisy, but it's never distracting. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track keeps the all-important dialogue clear and well-balanced. The surrounds get some decent usage for atmosphere as well.
The lone extra is a commentary featuring the Goetz brothers and Duhamel. The brothers talk a lot about the technical aspects while praising their performers. Duhamel pipes up from time to time to tell stories from the set. It's not the most riveting commentary, but it provides some good background info for those who enjoyed the film. It's also a plus that the DVD comes with a slipcover featuring a lenticular version of the poster—turn it one way and Duhamel looks normal; turn it the other and he's all mohawked and bloody.
Scenic Route doesn't bring that much new to the table; it's a character piece looking at two not-very-nice guys in the desert. Fans of the actors may enjoy that, but it's certainly not a film for everybody. The ending will also likely be a bit contentious as well, though I don't want to give it away.
Scenic Route is a decent little thriller mixed with a character study. A fun premise and some solid performances make it worth a rental for fans of the actors or anyone looking for a non-standard thriller.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vertical Entertainment
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