Home Video Hovel: Scenic Route, by David Bax
Kevin & Michael Goetz’ Scenic Route is a low-budget indie with a couple of recognizable faces in the cast and you probably didn’t even hear about it during its fleeting theatrical run. That’s a real shame, too, because – despite those descriptors above – it’s not some esoteric art picture. What it is is a lean, smart, entertaining and emotional two-hander; a good, old-fashioned story.
That story involves Mitchell (Josh Duhamel) and Carter (Dan Fogler) as two friends who haven’t seen each other in years. When we meet them, they’re on an uneventful road trip through the desert to some unspecified locale. Mitchell, who has started a career, married, and fathered a child, seems content to continue not talking to Carter, who still hangs onto his youthful ideals, scraping by as an unemployed screenwriter. Since Mitchell has been sleeping most of the trip away, Carter decides a detour – or a scenic route – through the desert is just the thing to spark some conversation. That means when their truck breaks down, they are stranded with no food or water – save some jellybeans and melted ice in a fast food cup – in a place where help is unlikely to come by.
Given that the film’s roughly 85 minutes consist almost entirely of two guys talking, the easiest observation to make about Scenic Route is that it could be a play. And it could, I suppose, but to insist so would be to discount the filmic intensity the brothers Goetz bring. The desert, I’m told, is very hot during the day and very cold at night. With the color palette, the presence of intense winds and, of course, the performances by Duhamel and Fogler, very little suspension of disbelief is required to convince yourself that these men are ravaged by hunger, thirst and the elements.
Naturally, this wouldn’t be a movie if our protagonists weren’t also battling personal and interpersonal forces. The immediately apparent differences between their life stations soon give way to deeper disparities in philosophy and honesty. The screenplay by celebrated television writer/producer Kyle Killen has the baton of reason and clarity passed back and forth so crisply and engagingly that the long sequences of essentially standing or sitting in the desert never feel like a slog.
As mentioned, Duhamel and Fogler impress, clearly relishing the chance to break out of their casting pigeonholes (poor man’s Timothy Olyphant/poor man’s Jack Black). Fogler in particular, after a small but stellar turn on NBC’s Hannibal this spring, is displaying untold chops lately. Killen gives both of them multiple, hefty monologues that don’t feel like monologues when they come out of the actors’ mouths. And beyond simply delivering their lines well, the two leads convince us with an economy of tics and expressions that we’re watching longtime friends.
Much has and will be made of Scenic Route’s ending, at least among those who’ve actually seen it. If one finds its ambiguity (or is it ambiguous at all?) strained and hokey, it could certainly be a dealbreaker. It nearly was for me. By the final shot, though, I felt I understood exactly what Killen and the Goetzes intended. If it doesn’t work for you, it might seem manipulative and predictable. If it does, it’s an aching examination of what it means to be true to oneself, the many different ways there are to do so and, finally, the ways in which doing so could go tragically wrong.
Special features include a commentary with the directors and Duhamel.