Let’s cut right to the chase on this one: The Canyons is a bad film – and not even that “so bad it’s good” kind of bad film, it is just plain bad.
And in full disclosure, I actually backed this film on Kickstarter way back in Spring 2012 (a decision I now regret). Being a fan of both screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis and director Paul Schrader’s early careers, I was foolishly hopeful that their low-budget, indie team-up would be well worth my $10 donation and perhaps breathe new life into their respective floundering careers. Unfortunately, I was wrong on all counts.
The Canyons follows Christian (James Deen), an apathetic and egotistical LA trust-fund kid with minor connections in Hollywood. When he learns his girlfriend, Tara (Lindsay Lohan), is having an affair with the lead of his latest film project, he spirals out of control, and his cruel mind games escalate into an act of bloody violence.
The finished product, shot digitally and on the cheap, is a disjointed wannabe sexual noir-thriller that has the look and feel of a late night exploitation movie on Cinemax. The film looks and feels exactly that – cheap. The characters are poorly drawn, wooden, and unsympathetic in every way possible. The sex scenes (even with all the gratuitous nudity) are incredibly awkward and bland. Despite being labeled a thriller, the necessary and expected tension and atmosphere are near non-existent. On top of all that, the film is incredulously boring and feels overlong despite clocking in at a listed 99 minutes.
Written by Ellis, who is known for his biting satire and provocation, the film regrettably contains neither – though it tries . . . I guess. Schrader, more acclaimed as a screenwriter (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) than a director (American Gigolo, Cat People, Hardcore), does his best with the clichéd story, horrendous dialogue, and mediocre acting.
The film stars a once talented, now train wreck of an actress (Lohan) and a still-in-the-business porn star (Deen), plus the one-time star of the D-movie schlock Dragon Wars, an extremely unnecessary cameo from acclaimed filmmaker Gus Van Sant, and a host of unrecognizable actors whose career will likely never recover from their association with this film.
An unenthusiastic, rather fake-looking Lohan listlessly mumbles her way through the film, while Deen, well, his acting skills are exactly what you would expect from a porn star trying to go legit. And sure, Deen’s character is supposed to be nihilistic and rather unlikable, but he is so incredibly uncharismatic and dreadful, that his scenes are increasingly hard to watch. The rest of the cast – interestingly enough, filled with struggling actors portraying struggling actors – are mostly space fillers delivering their lines without much effect.
Shoehorned onto the film is an extremely underdeveloped and misguided side commentary on contemporary Hollywood and the gradual moral decay of the business. The opening montage of dilapidated movie theaters is incredibly intriguing and probably the most interesting aspect of the film. Unfortunately, it goes nowhere. Perhaps if it had focused more on this aspect, the film might have some redeeming quality – but it didn’t and, in turn, it doesn’t.
At one point, Lohan asks her friend, “Do you really like movies? When was the last time you saw a movie that really meant something to you?” Understand that Ellis and Schrader, both rather forgotten and/or outside of the current Hollywood mainstream, are trying to create something different with this film, and in doing so, make a statement about how Hollywood has changed since they were more relevant. But this grand idea never congeals and the only thing you can think of is how much you really do not like just this movie, not all movies in general.
The film’s entire production history is littered with controversy – starting with the aforementioned fundraising campaign, Lohan’s trademark on-set difficulties which led to a firing and re-hiring, heated disagreements between Ellis and Schrader, and upon completion, the film’s rejection by several big name film festivals (Sundance, SXSW) for quality issues. Stirring up press was never a problem for The Canyons, but it has certainly given the film much more attention than it deserves.
* out of 5 stars
The Canyons opens Friday, September 13 at Chalmette Movies with screenings at 4:30 and 9:15 p.m. daily.
So come out and support Chalmette Movies (8700 W. Judge Perez Dr.) by catching this new film, so that the theater can continue bringing interesting films like these to the New Orleans-area. Also, visit the theater’s website for more information, directions, showtimes, and ticket prices.
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