'Scenic Route' makes the cinematic road trip worthwhile
05:00 AM, Aug 22, 2013
Scenic Route follows much the same path as a cross-country road trip: It begins with energy, dulls in the middle stretches but redeems itself with a final destination that makes the trip feel worth it.
Starring Josh Duhamel in the most uncharacteristic role of his career, Route (*** out of four) is a road trip movie to hell, in this case Death Valley. And were it not for a few shortcuts in the film’s opening act, Route would be this year’s Open Water, the gripping drama about scuba divers left stranded during an ocean tour.
While Route doesn’t have the subtlety of that terrific 2003 film, it takes enough unexpected turns, particularly at the film’s finale, to make for gripping, anti-superhero summer viewing.
Duhamel plays Mitchell, a man who gave up his music and ambitions for a desk job and family. His old friend Carter (Dan Fogler), an underemployed writer, serves as chauffeur as the two trek through the unforgiving desert in a pickup that looks hardly road-worthy.
Sure enough, the truck breaks down in the film’s first 15 minutes, an inspired opening inspired by, of all things, Taxi Driver’s unhinged hero, Travis Bickle. From there, Route leapfrogs backward in time, explaining how Duhamel became dazed, bloodied and sporting a makeshift mohawk.
Directed by newcomer brothers Kevin and Michael Goetz, Route flirts with being something brilliant. With an unforgiving desert as backdrop, the landscape becomes an integral character, much as it is in the Emmy-winning Breaking Bad (the movie poster even smacks of the AMC show’s ads). The brothers pay delicious attention to details like hypothermia and dehydration, making the men’s fate palpably tenuous.
Where the film stumbles is in its set-up. Fogler does a fine job as Carter, but the character stretches credulity, first in his strange attempt to re-connect with Mitchell, then in his fury with his friend for growing up. Route is in such a hurry to get our heroes stranded and bickering that it feels rushed, particularly compared with the effective-but-deliberate pacing of the film’s second half.
Still, Route shines plenty, especially in its quieter moments. The confession of an affair is chilling in its honesty, and when the men are getting along, the relationship is an authentic bromance. It’s no Taxi Driver or even Open Water, but Route has enough attractions to warrant the trip.