Carriers


The police department of Ferguson, MO makes sure that Topless Day is a big success.

The police department of Ferguson, MO makes sure that Topless Day is a big success.

(2009) Horror (Paramount Vantage) Lou Taylor Pucci, Chris Pine, Piper Perabo, Christopher Meloni, Emily VanCamp, Kiernan Shipka, Ron McClary (voice), Mark Moses, Josh Berry, Tim Janis, Dale Malley, Jan Cunningham, Mary Peterson (voice), Sequoyah Adams-Rice, LeAnne Lynch, Brighid Fleming. Directed by Alex and David Pastor

Zombies are all the rage in post-apocalyptic horror, but as scary as the living dead might be, what could be scarier than a monster you can’t see: a virus. It is not the virus itself that frightens, although the results end up the same whether infected with a virus or having your brains munched on by a walker but what the virus turns us into.

Danny (Pucci) and Brian (Pine) are brothers. Danny, once bound for Yale before higher education became more of a school of hard knocks, is the more reserved and the smarter of the two. Brian, more of a working class stiff, is the more pragmatic particularly in terms of survival. Along with Brian’s girlfriend Bobbi (Perabo) and Danny’s friend Kate (VanCamp) they are headed to the coast, to Turtle Beach, a resort where Danny and Brian have fond memories.

They have some hard and fast rules which essentially boil down to stay away from those who might be sick which is essentially everyone. They carry bleach and surgical masks which they wear whenever they venture out of the safety of their stolen car. The more they can keep to the four of themselves, the safer they’ll be.

As they drive west they run into a father (Meloni) and his daughter (Shipka) who is infected. They’re trying to make it to a complex where a cure is said to be. At first Brian says no way Jose but eventually circumstances force him to help the other two. For their troubles, Bobbi gets infected although she tries to hide it at first. However, there’s no hiding the horrors that are to follow.

 

In some ways this is a bloodless film (although there are a couple of scenes where the infected burble up blood through various orifices). There is little in the way of gore and hardly any violence. Even when the girls are confronted by survivalists who have rape on the minds comes to naught when they discover that Bobbi is sick after they force the girls to strip down to bra and panties. Followers of Joe Bob Briggs and Drive-In Cinema will be sorely disappointed – back in the 70s and 80s there would have been pustules exploding blood, bodies dripping with gore, knife fights and of course the girls would have been naked and likely raped. Ah, the good old days.

But this is a different era and audience sensibilities are different now. This is meant to be more of a psychological horror film as we watch the tight-knit group slowly disintegrate. You have the natural conflict between brothers which always makes for good cinema, but even that is watered down some and the writers gave them the golden opportunity of having one brother be intellectual, the other working class. I mean, how much more conflict do you need?

Apparently plenty because in the hands of the Pastor brothers this is a kinder, gentler apocalypse, one that is suitable for prime time network television. The moral decisions here are fairly basic – survival versus compassion and in a situation such as this, well, there’s really only one decision so even that conflict feels forced and artificial.

Pine, who went on to Star Trek fame not long after this was filmed, has plenty of presence and charisma as he acts the role of leader here. There is a nice dynamic between him and Pucci, who is more of the conscience of the group. Eventually the roles get reversed but while it is a bit jarring in the way they do it onscreen, the actors manage to make it believable nonetheless.

This is a pretty flawed movie which the studio essentially gave up on before Pine’s success brought it out of the vaults and into a brief release. This isn’t the greatest of post-apocalyptic horrors – it could have used a little more edge – but it has its merits and Pine is worth seeing in this role before he went on to become James Tiberius Kirk. Ladies be warned though – he spends a good portion of the film with a surgical mask on.

WHY RENT THIS: Pine and Pucci make an effective team.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Extremely grim and lacks visceral thrills.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some violence, plenty of disturbing images and a fair amount of cussin’.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After being filmed in 2006, Carriers was shelved until Chris Pine’s success in Star Trek motivated the studio to dust it off and give it a brief limited release.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.8M on an unreported production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix DVD, Amazon (rent/buy/DVD), iTunes, Vudu (rent/buy)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cabin Fever
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Coherence

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Evil Dead (2013)


Better Evil Dead than Evil Red.

Better Evil Dead than Evil Red.

(2013) Horror (Tri-Star) Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, Phoenix Connolly, Jim McLarty, Sian Davis, Stephen Butterworth, Karl Willetts, Randal Wilson, Rupert Degas (voice), Bob Dorian (voice), Ellen Sandweiss (voice). Directed by Fede Alvarez

One of the best horror films of the 1980s and a personal favorite of mine was 1981’s Evil Dead which starred Bruce Campbell and was directed by a young Sam Raimi. Now it’s getting the remake treatment (although Raimi and Campbell are on board as producers); is it worth the effort?

Five friends gather in a remote cabin which belongs to David (Fernandez) and Mia (Levy). David’s girlfriend Natalie (Blackmore), best friend Eric (Pucci) and his girlfriend, RN Olivia (Lucas) are there not for drunken revelry but for a more sober reason – to get drug-addicted Mia straight. She’s going to quit cold turkey and David, who’s been absent from her life (hell, he’s been absent from everybody’s life) is getting the cold shoulder from Eric and Mia and to a larger extent, he deserves it.

Mia soon begins ranting about seeing a strange young girl in the woods, and complains about a terrible smell. When they discover a hidden door that goes into the basement, they are shocked to find all sorts of dead cats hanging from the ceiling, some burned alive. They also find a book, wrapped in barbed wire and all but screaming “DO NOT READ. YOU’LL BE SORRY…”

What does Eric, the supposedly smart one do? Reads it aloud. Are you effin kidding me? And of course all Hell literally breaks loose – Mia goes for a walk in the woods and gets attacked and restrained by the trees, at which point the young girl vomits up a kind of cross between a vine and a snake and that….well, you can guess where it goes. Maybe not.

After which the young people get picked off one by one, becoming possessed, desperately trying to hack off their infected limb before the entity takes over and then…being taken over anyway. It’s grueling, gory and only 90 minutes long, by which time either you will care what happens to the survivors (assuming there are any) or you won’t. It all kind of depends on how you view horror movies in general.

This one isn’t all that bad despite the fact that it suffers from Young People Doing Incredibly Stupid Things syndrome. Of course it’s easy to judge the reactions of people from the safety of a movie theater with a mouthful of popcorn being chewed noisily, ice cold soft drink at the ready to wash it down with. I assume that in a situation in which my perception of reality was challenged I might actually…panic. I might not even act heroically which of course throughout the movie I’m thinking “David you idiot! If it were my sister, I’d shoot her in the head in a heartbeat.” The trouble is, I don’t think I could shoot my sister in the head, even if I knew she were literally suffering the tortures of the damned. I’m not sure if that makes me a coward – in the context of horror movies, however, it makes me a wimp of the highest order of magnitude.

The performances are solid enough for movies of this type with Suburgatory‘s Levy getting the most props for her portrayal of a troubled, addicted young woman. There is plenty of gore, nearly all of it practical which for my money looks a lot better to this point than the computer generated stuff. There are some pretty decent scares as well, although more of the roller coaster variety than the slow build-up and payoff type.

There are a couple of things missing here. First and foremost is the sly humor that marked the original – this is much more serious horror, no sly winks or edgy gags. And no Bruce Campbell who was responsible for a lot of the not-taken-seriousness of the first trilogy. That sense of humor is what made the original trilogy a classic; by comparison the remake is a bit stodgy.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t without its own charms however. While it doesn’t really hold up to the original, it does what it’s supposed to do competently and as modern horror films go, it holds up its end of the bargain adequately.

REASONS TO GO: Some pretty impressive visuals and scares. Maybe the ultimate “lonely cabin in the woods” story.

REASONS TO STAY: Needs a Bruce Campbell sort to make it work. In the end nothing really distinguishes it.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a ton of blood, guts and ultra-violence, plenty of bad language and some sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Swanberg directed six films that were filmed in 2010 (and co-directed a seventh), one of the busiest years for a single director since the silent era.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/24/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100; the critical acclaim wasn’t exactly overwhelming.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cabin in the Woods

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

New Releases for the Week of April 5, 2013


Evil Dead

EVIL DEAD

(Tri-Star) Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jane Levy, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, Jim McLarty, Rupert Degas (voice), Randal Wilson. Directed by Fede Alvarez

You’ve seen it before but you’ve never seen it like this. The 1981 cult hit gets a new coat of paint as a group of young people go to a remote cabin in the woods where they find (da-da-DAAAAAAAAH) the Book of the Dead. Even though they’re warned not to of course one of them reads aloud from it, unleashing demonic possession and all kinds of carnage. You’d think people would know by now…

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language)

6 Souls

(Radius) Julianne Moore, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Jeffrey DeMunn, Frances Conroy. After the death of her husband, a psychiatrist has lost her faith in God, choosing to believe only in science. She is then introduced to a patient with multiple personalities who takes on the physical characteristics of each personality. As she discovers that each of those personalities is the soul of a murder victim living inside him, she discovers that what is happening may transcend science and have deadly consequences for her and those she loves.

See the trailer, clips and a link to download the full move on Amazon here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for violent content, disturbing images and terror)

Himmatwala

(UTV) Ajay Devgn, Tamanna Bhatia, Paresh Rawal, Zarina Wahab. A remake of a 1983 blockbuster in India, a shy schoolteacher inadvertently witnesses a local thug commit a crime, only to see him go free after his testimony. Ashamed and terrified, he leaves his village. His family then sets out to redeem his good name.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Jurassic Park 3D

(Universal) Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough, Jeff Goldblum. The question is, does post-converting this ’90s classic add anything to the experience that your imagination didn’t already put there? Thought not…

See the trailer, clips, a featurette and a link to download the full move on Amazon here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Adventure

Rating: PG-13 (for intense science fiction terror) 

The Playroom

(Freestyle Releasing) John Hawkes, Molly Parker, Olivia Harris, Jonathan Brooks. A teenager is forced to become a surrogate mother to her younger siblings during the 70s. She tells them fantastic stories to mask the realization that their parents’ drinking is raging way out of control.

See the trailer and a link to download the full movie on Amazon here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR 

Tattoo Nation

(D&E Entertainment) Danny Trejo, Don Ed Hardy, Freddy Negrete, Travis Barker. How did tattoos go from being something sailors got when drunk on shore leave in Singapore or something prisoners got to identify themselves as criminals to becoming “body art” and where 25% of all young adults under the age of 40 now have one? It’s actually a pretty good question…

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

Beginners


Beginners

Oh look..."The Sound of Music." Lovely, just lovely.

(2011) Drama (Focus) Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller, Keegan Boos, China Shavers, Melissa Tang, Amanda Payton, Luke Diliberto, Lou Taylor Pucci. Directed by Mike Mills

Relationships are more complicated than nuclear physics. There are no hard and fast rules that govern them and just when you think you have them figured out, the rules change. In love, as in life, we all muddle through as best we can and come to the realization that there are no experts – we are all, in reality, just beginners.

Oliver (McGregor) is very sad. It’s 2003 and his father Hal (Plummer) has passed away from cancer recently. Oliver’s relationship with dear old Dad is extremely complicated. Six months after his mom Georgia (Keller) died, Hal came out of the closet. It turns out that Hal had realized he was gay for the length of the marriage, more than 30 years.

As we flash back to young Oliver (Boos), we see with startling clarity that Georgia was in a marriage that was without passion, a lonely institution that left her sad and bitter, a non-conformist in all other respects but apparently unable to divorce her husband when she was clearly unhappy.

Oliver himself has been unable to commit to a relationship, ostensibly because he didn’t want to end up like his parents, lonely in their relationship. He meets Anna (Laurent), a French actress living in New York shooting a film in L.A. Like Oliver, she’s damaged goods but she might well be the love of his life.

As he tries to navigate his way through this relationship and find a way at last to commit rather than creating a reason not to, he flashes back to the last years of his father’s life, when he embraced the gay community – indeed, embraced life – and found happiness at long last with Andy (a nearly unrecognizable Visnjic). When his dad got ill and Oliver became his caretaker, the two men finally connected in ways they never had been able to when Oliver was growing up. His father had found joy late in life; would Oliver find it too, or would he turn it away as he always had?

Mills based much of this on his own experiences with his dad, reportedly. For that reason, the relationships ring true. They are very imperfect and fraught with land mines and machine gun nests. Nobody in this movie gets out unscathed, which is as it should be because that’s how life and relationships are.

Mills cast the movie brilliantly. McGregor is an immensely likable actor who here has to play an emotionally closed off man who desperately wants more than it looks like he’s going to get. He has a constantly befuddled expression on his face, with an occasional detour to sad. Oliver is never so alive as when he’s with Anna, and McGregor lights up around her as a man in love must do. He also gets the single most powerful moment in the film when one of his father’s friends gently wakes him to tell him his father is gone. The grief is so raw, so close to the surface that I wept, relating as a son who lost his father too young.

Plummer as that father has a touch of pixie in him, a kind of rakish twinkle in his eye that is immensely appealing. Hal discovers life and revels in everything about it. He awakens his son to ask him about a style of music he heard in a night club that he’s unfamiliar with. When his son tells him that it’s called House Music, Hal writes it down dutifully as an old man who can’t trust his memory would. Little touches like that make characters live and breathe.

Anna is lustrous and free-spirited and Laurent captures both the quirky qualities that make her endearing as well as the self-doubts and demons that make her fragile. It is a nuanced performance that those who remember her from Inglourious Basterds won’t be surprised by. Visnjic, once the hunk in “E.R.” is less brooding and hunky, but still crazy handsome as Andy, a man plagued with the suspicion that everyone hates him because he’s gay.

Some may shy away from the movie because of Hal’s sexuality; they do themselves a disservice. This is not a story about gay people; it’s a story about people. People who are imperfect, who make terrible choices and also wonderful choices – people who leave adorable Jack Russell terriers behind that communicate in subtitles. These are flawed people but flawed in the way real people are flawed. Now, I will grant you that at times I had problems figuring out the storyline because they aren’t all told sequentially which can make you scratch your head trying to figure out where you are in the scheme of things, movie-wise. Still, I found myself liking this movie and being deeply affected by it long after I left the theater. For someone who sees as many movies as I do, that’s a precious gift indeed.

REASONS TO GO: A realistic depiction of a man coming to terms not only with the loss of his father but with his own inadequacies. Great performances from McGregor, Laurent and Plummer.

REASONS TO STAY: Disjointed storytelling leaps back and forth from Dad’s story to young Oliver to modern Oliver.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of bad language and some sexual situations.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Plummer and McGregor have both played Iago in separate stage productions of Othello.

HOME OR THEATER: This is an intimate drama befitting an intimate setting.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: An Inconvenient Truth

The Answer Man


The Answer Man

Jeff Daniels finds Lauren Graham's resemblence to Shirley MacLaine more noticeable than ever in this scene.

(2009) Romantic Comedy (Magnolia) Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham, Lou Taylor Pucci, Olivia Thirlby, Kat Dennings, Nora Dunn, Tony Hale, Anne Corley, Max Antisell, Thomas Roy, Peter Patrikios. Directed by John Hindman

We all want insight into the way the world works. We muddle through as best we can, but the truth is life doesn’t come with an owner’s manual. We have to make it work with the tools we have, often with imperfect information.

Arlen Faber (Daniels) seems to have the answers. He wrote a bestselling book entitled “Me and God” which in the words of one person, “redefined spirituality for an entire generation.” However, in the words of another person, “He may have written ‘Me and God’ but he did not read it.” Faber has locked himself away in a charming row house in Philadelphia, shying away from the limelight and the millions of people who want more answers from him. He’s a little bit of J.D. Sallinger in that regard, only without the charm.

When he throws his back out, he’s forced to crawl – literally – to the nearest chiropractor which happens to be Elizabeth (Graham) who’s never heard of him. However her receptionist Anne (Thirlby) certainly has and after Elizabeth renders him (temporarily) pain-free, he swears by his new savior. Mainly he just swears.

He also wants to get rid of a library-full of self-help books he’s accumulated over the years and so he decides to unload them at the local used-book store owned by Kris (Pucci) who himself has just returned from rehab to find a dying father and a bookstore that is nearly as dead. Frustrated and in need of answers, Kris agrees to take the unwanted books in exchange for answers which Arlen reluctantly agrees to. In the meantime, a romance begins to blossom between Arlen and Elizabeth, who is highl protective of her son Alex (Antisell), another one of those precocious indie movie children. Arlen, Elizabeth and Kris are all individually wounded in one way or another; could it be that together they can help each other heal, or at least learn to cope better with their wounds?

That’s really about it in terms of plot. Being that this is an indie movie the film is a bit highbrow in a lot of ways, substituting spiritual/philosophical discussion for the usual banter you find in typical rom-com fare. That’s kind of refreshing for starters. The relationship between Elizabeth and Arlen is actually pretty realistic and there’s some actual chemistry there. That’s also kind of refreshing these days.

I like the idea of the movie using the romantic comedy as a forum for exploring bigger questions about existence, our place in the universe and our own self-image but there are times I get the feeling that the writers were grappling with too many of these big ticket issues and wound up doing justice to none of them. Sometimes less is more, particularly when you’re tackling the big picture.

Daniels is certainly an underrated actor. He always seems to turn in a solid performance; it has been quite awhile since he was in a movie that I didn’t think he was compelling in. That streak continues here. He makes the curmudgeonly, socially awkward and extremely lonely Arlen actually a relatable figure which is an achievement in itself. Certainly on paper Arlen is not terribly likable.

There are similarities between this and the James Brooks comedy As Good As It Gets (which has been the touchstone most critics have been using), but they are definitely very different movies. At the end of the day this is a flawed but ultimately interesting movie that while being ostensibly a romantic comedy certainly doesn’t fit in the typical rom-com cliche film that Hollywood churns out these days. While ultimately this is about the redemption of Arlen Faber, it’s also about our own need to find ourselves in a world where many are willing to give us their own answers, but few of them really pan out.

WHY RENT THIS: Nice chemistry between Daniels and Graham. I like the overall themes to the movie. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The film overreaches at times, trying to make a bit more out of its spirituality themes than perhaps it should.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of harsh language, I have to admit.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is John Hindman’s directing debut.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $26,676 on an unreported production budget; the film was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Boys Are Back

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men


Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Julianne Nicholson discovers that if you get a few glasses of wine in him, Timothy Hutton will begin to loosen up with the Ordinary People stories.

(2009) Comedy (IFC) Julianne Nicholson, Will Forte, Timothy Hutton, Dominic Cooper, Bobby Cannavale, John Krasinski, Christopher Meloni, Denis O’Hare, Max Minghella, Lou Taylor Pucci, Josh Charles, Frankie Faison. Directed by John Krasinski

What do men really want? Why, any woman knows the answer to that – it’s sex and lots of it, in some cases the kind most humiliating and degrading to the woman possible. But how accurate is that portrayal?

Apparently right down to the bone, according to this adaptation of a collection of short stories by the late David Foster Wallace of the same name. In those stories, the questions are asked by an anonymous interviewer just denoted by a Q and a colon. Here, a character is created to be the interviewer; Sara Quinn (Nicholson), a low-key cropped-haired gamine who sits down a group of men in front of a pitcher of water and a tape recorder and asks them a variety of questions. These interviewees are rarely given names, only numbers. They rarely have anything nice to say. She does all this for a post-graduate thesis for pompous Professor Adams (Hutton).

Not everything here is a formal interview. Some of the vignettes are snippets of overheard conversations, or Adams pontificating on whatever. The last is Sara’s ex-boyfriend Ryan (Krasinski) who had dumped her without explanation, leading her to this graduate project. When she at last gets to question him as to why he would hurt her in that way, the answers are far less than forthcoming and far more than humiliating.

Krasinski, better known as Jim in “The Office,” chose a very difficult first project for himself and to his credit doesn’t become lost in it, although the movie does meander a little bit in the final third. Still, he has an excellent sense for casting as the impressive cast often delivers spot-on performances. Along with Hutton, Faison plays the son of a washroom attendant who worked a demeaning job for decades in a hotel he wouldn’t be allowed o stay in. He narrates his story with a mixture of disappointment, shame, and respect. Meloni (from “Law and Order: SVU”) and O’Hare discuss a rather tragic event while waiting in a train station and both are as good as anyone else in the movie, particularly Meloni who is both caustic and sympathetic at once.

The movie has been criticized for lack of a unifying thread but I disagree with that assessment. I do think all the stories are related in more than just a general way; they have to do with the self-image of men and their insecurities that lead them to treat women so poorly. While at times this seems to be a rant against the male species in general, I chose to take it as simply the viewpoint of those who are mystified by the cruelty and arrogance of men and who have yet to find men with better qualities, at least in men that are available to them.

My problem with the movie is that while Nicholson is usually a fine actress, here she is emotionally cut off, so wounded is she from being dumped by a boyfriend that she is frankly well rid of. She kind of floats in and out of the movie, carrying absolutely no inertia which in turn gives the movie a strangely languid quality that I found somewhat unpleasant.

However, Krasinski chose to retain much of Wallace’s terrific dialogue in the movie, utilizing the novelist’s style as much as possible when he couldn’t quote directly. It is one of the movie’s best qualities, and given the fine actors who he recruited to recite that dialogue, makes for a movie that stimulates the mind as much as the libido.

I’m not sure you’ll get any further insight into men by watching this, but you might get a few explanations about our behavior here and there. It is an oversimplification to say that men are all about sex; that aspect is more of a symptom than the disease. However, that men are capable of wanton cruelty is certainly not a surprise. What is surprising is that neither Wallace nor Krasinski could find anything or anyone redeeming in the gender to act as a counterbalance.

WHY RENT THIS: Some of the vignettes particularly that between Meloni and O’Hare and a late monologue by Faison are brilliant. The dialogue is well-written and the impressive cast delivers in most cases.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sometimes the movie feels a little aimless. Nicholson is bland and too expressionless.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a surfeit of sexual innuendo and conversation as well as some foul language of the non-sexual sort. The overall theme and situations are not for children in the least.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In Professor Adams’s office there is a pile of books, the top one of which is David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” Wallace also wrote the book this is based on.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33,745 on an unreported budget; the theatrical release lost money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Bonneville

The Go-Getter


The Go-Getter

Betcha didn't know Zooey Deschanel is a rootin' tootin' cowgirl!

(Peace Arch) Lou Taylor Pucci, Zooey Deschanel, Jena Malone, Maura Tierney, Bill Duke, Jsu Garcia, Judy Greer, M. Ward, Nick Offerman, Julio Oscar Mechoso. Directed by Martin Hynes

An argument can be made that our whole lives are basically about being all dressed up with nowhere to go. Sometimes, the solution is just to get into the car and start driving, even if we only have just a vague plan in mind. Life changing things can happen on the road.

Mercer (Pucci) is a callow young man living in Eugene, Oregon trying to pick up the pieces after the death of his mother eight months earlier. On a bit of a whim, he steals a car in a car wash and drives off east to find his brother Arlen (Garcia), whose very name provokes intense emotional responses in the people that he has wrong (and the list of those is impressive indeed). Mercer has an urge to inform his brother, who has been out of their lives for some time now, of his mother’s death.

The car’s owner left her cell phone in the car and although angry at first, agrees to let Mercer use her car if he keeps her abreast of his travels. In turn he imagines her to be any one of dozens of beautiful faces (as another critic stated, it turns the part into a bit of a Benetton ad) until Kate (that’s her name) unexpectedly shows up and turns out to look a lot like Zooey Deschanel. That’s a really good thing in my opinion, however.

Along the way Mercer meets a collection of oddballs and losers, ranging from Joely (Malone), a middle school classmate with a gigantic libido and a yen for recreational drugs; a liquor salesman (Duke) with the kind of attitude that gives bad attitude a bad name; a group of drug dealers (led by Tierney) whose community service involves playing music – badly – at community events, and a pornographer who has taken the name of Italian spaghetti western auteur Sergio Leone (Mechoso).

Wacky things happen. Some serious things occur. And yes, finally Mercer catches up to Arlen after stops all over the map of the Western U.S. and the meeting isn’t like anything he – or we – imagined.

There is a whole subgenre of indie films that are basically road movies, and there’s a special place in Hell for those who make them. There seems to be this conceit that these movies take place in small towns in the middle of nowhere in the Western United States, and that these towns are full of fun, eccentric people – which makes me wonder if they are teaching kids in film school that all of the small towns of Western America are filled with kooks, nut jobs, losers and head cases, as if there is something in the water that causes brain damage and personality overload all at once.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love quirky indie road pictures just as much as the next guy, but couldn’t we vary the formula a little bit? Does every self-discovery have to be made accompanied by someone with serious mental and/or emotional issues?

For me, any film with Zooey Deschanel in it is worth seeing. Not only is she absolutely gorgeous (never a bad thing when you’re a male), but she is also an amazing actress. She has the ability to take characters that are literally indie film cliches and bring them to life, make them real and not just a collection of personality tics, which so many other actors and actresses tend to make these sorts of characters.

Also of note here is the cinematography which is breathtaking in places. Byron Shah has a knack for taking big empty vistas and making them a character in the scene. Also, indie folk rocker M. Ward contributes a pretty nifty score (and as a kind of grace note, would eventually go on to form a band with Miss Deschanel called Me & Him and make some really good music with her).

Still, it’s hard to overcome the feeling of “been there, done that” that permeates the film, or the kind of self-congratulatory cinema buff references that make Film Geeks absolutely stiff with pleasure in trying to decipher them all. It’s a bit like getting to know an absolute expert on pizza who waxes eloquent about unusual toppings and artisan cheeses, but when it comes time for them to serve a pizza of their own you find out it was delivered from Pizza Hut. In this case, the product is a bit better than Pizza Hut, but I would have preferred more character interaction and less wackiness.

WHY RENT THIS: Two words: Zooey Deschanel. A credible road film with some mighty fine cinematography.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little too much indie quirkiness and a few too many cinematic name checks make the movie occasionally too film geek-centric for my tastes.

FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of sex, a little bit of drugs, a whole lot of rock ‘n’ roll and a fair bit of foul language make this more suitable for mature audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The director’s dad makes a cameo as an older man wearing a cowboy hat at the car wash as the film begins.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Dr. No