(US - 2013)
Directed by Paul Schrader. Written by Bret Easton Ellis. Cast: Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Funk, Amanda Brooks, Tenille Houston, Gus Van Sant, Jim Boeven, Victor of Aquitane, Lily Labeau, Thomas Trussell. (Unrated, 99 mins)
Despite the rollercoaster nature of his career, Paul Schrader has cemented his place in film history. As a screenwriter, he penned such influential Martin Scorsese films as TAXI DRIVER (1976), RAGING BULL (1980), and THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988) and directed his own scripts for memorable films like BLUE COLLAR (1978), HARDCORE (1979), AMERICAN GIGOLO (1980), and LIGHT SLEEPER (1992). While his name is inextricably linked with Scorsese's in the eyes of devout cinephiles (Schrader also wrote Scorsese's 1999 film BRINGING OUT THE DEAD), Schrader generally hasn't enjoyed the accolades and mainstream adoration that his old friend has. He's had a hard time bouncing back from the EXORCIST prequel debacle of a decade ago that saw producers shelving his film and remaking it from scratch with Renny Harlin (Schrader's version was eventually given a limited release, and go figure, it's much better than Harlin's, but the damage was already done). Schrader made two small indie films after that: 2007's THE WALKER and 2008's ADAM RESURRECTED, a bizarre, little-seen Holocaust drama headlined by what might be Jeff Goldblum's career-best performance. 30 years ago, Schrader was one of the leading voices in cinema. Today, at 67, he's reduced to THE CANYONS, a $250,000 indie, funded mostly by Kickstarter contributions, and starring the infamously unemployable Lindsay Lohan.
|Director Paul Schrader
And he might've pulled it off if the end result wasn't so amateurish. Lohan is the most professional actor in the film, and the many long conversations between the characters play like filmed rehearsals. Lohan tries--and there's one great, fourth-wall-breaking shot during a sex scene where she looks right into the camera in a truly jarring moment (she was reportedly looking at Schrader, who stripped naked to direct the scene in order to make her more comfortable)--but the film only serves as a reminder of her well-documented offscreen problems. On that note, it's perfect casting, especially since she's 27 and doesn't look a day under 40. But it's just a missed opportunity with too much facile, ham-fisted messaging, and Schrader just cashes out when he turns the film into a rote "obsessive psycho" thriller and it becomes painfully apparent that he doesn't know how to wrap this up. There's a few positives: the shots of the vacant, dilapidated theaters have an eerie quality, but there's a ton of web sites devoted to that sort of thing, and there's an early shot of an upscale, outdoor shopping center where everyone is staring blankly at their smartphones while shopping for nothing in particular that has a stark Antonioni feeling of cold disconnect. But it's all downhill from there, and even the much-ballyhooed sex scenes aren't that explicit (nor are they erotic, but they aren't supposed to be), so all the hype was really for naught, much like the entire endeavor. There's an almost mid-1970s Jess Franco quality to the crudeness of this project, and on that end, I'm sure THE CANYONS will quickly find passionate defenders. It's cheap and it doesn't try to make itself look like a bigger movie than it is. It looks like the kind of movie that's funded by a trust-fund kid and a Kickstarter campaign. The difference is that, unlike Franco, Schrader doesn't seem happy with what he's doing, and the misery is contagious.