SXSW 2013 Film Review: Scenic RouteA movie review article by: Nate Abernethy
In all honesty I still have no idea what to make of Scenic Route. The good news is I didn't completely hate it. Written by Kyle Killen, who scribed the vastly underrated The Beaver, Scenic Route is fantastic… for about 10 minutes. Immediately following Scenic Route's amazing opening scene, its problems become overwhelmingly evident.
Starring Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler as old friends on a road trip, it's a very small scale, dialogue-heavy film that's definitely outside of Duhamel's usual chick flick fare. Duhamel is certainly not to blame for the film's shortcomings as he's clearly out to showcase his talents go beyond standing there and looking pretty, and Fogler is fine in the best friend role. Not too long after we join them on them on their trip their car breaks down, or rather Fogler's character pretends it does so that they can be stranded and forced to converse. Then the car actually breaks down and from there tensions rise as they're stranded in the deadly conditions of Death Valley with no water or supplies.
The first major problem Scenic Route encounters is that for a film centering entirely around the dialogue between its only characters, you can't hear shit. Filmed on location in Death Valley, the winds of 55 mph make the majority of the dialogue indiscernible. So where do you go from there in a film where not much else is going on outside of the beautifully shot scenery and a terribly out-of-place soundtrack courtesy of Incubus's Michael Einziger? The short answer is you don't.
When I could hear what the characters had to say, I found it refreshing. Many may write off their conversations as that of two unrepentant assholes, but to me it felt like the kind of genuine conversation you can have with only your dearest friend. Feelings and thoughts you could never share with just anyone because the thoughts they ARE in fact, terrible and shallow. Those are exactly the kinds of conversations I've had with close travel buddies in the middle of nowhere. Isolation tends to bring out the darkest kernels of brutal honesty in people. It's these more understated moments where the film shines.
However, while Duhamel and Fogler are both fine, there's just no spark of chemistry. Prince Avalanche, a similarly low-budget film with the two leads being front and center in a similar setting of isolation hooks your attention the entirety of the film largely in part to the leads' captivating way they play off each other. Scenic Route falls short here, though in Fogler and Duhamel's defense the plot is set up in such a way that these friends have perhaps been disconnected for awhile.
It's the film's third act and conclusion that particularly infuriated me and where, despite my best attempts to give it the benefit of the doubt so far, it completely lost me. There's a sudden shift in action about two-thirds of the way through the film that felt suspiciously inauthentic to me, and rightfully so. As they attempt to make their way out of the desert, their sudden burst of energy after a meandering descent into dehydration and exhaustion just feels off. The film should have ended right there with perhaps a few more hints to the open-ended nature of the story, but instead it is spelled out for us in an insultingly overdrawn ending.
While there might be some salvageable way to fix Scenic Route's sound issues, there's nothing short of a reshoot to be done about its ridiculously dull and infuriatingly quasi-pretentious ending. Although Scenic Route exasperated me, I certainly don't regret the viewing. Mostly because a seating arrangement mishap allowed me to make direct eye contact with Fergie for the entirety of Duhamel's love scene. So, ya know, there's that.