The Canyons (**½)

canyons_ver2After all of the buzz surrounding the production (this was sort of the indie equivalent of World War Z in terms of what went on behind the scenes), it’s almost hard to believe that one can simply judge The Canyons on its own merits as a film now, as opposed to a cinematic sideshow. Honestly, when you have a movie starring Lindsey Lohan and adult film actor James Deen, some element of farce is hard to avoid, but some credit goes to author turned screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis and veteran filmmaker Paul Schrader for crafting something that’s hard to mock unless you’re really determined to do so. To be fair, this is a wildly uneven B movie film noir that’s not exactly a “good” movie, but it’s hardly the disaster some were hoping it to be. Ellis and Schrader aren’t exactly perfect fits for each other, but they do provide Deen and Lohan with opportunities to do some real acting, and both of them impressed me. Even when the rest of the cast comes of a bit amateurish at times, Deen and Lohan never do. On its own, this film is too flawed to recommend, but compared to what it could have been, the movie does actually work as a soap opera style guilty pleasure…

A portrait of West Coast excess with a sporadic sense of humor, we first meet our protagonists, trust fund baby Christian (Deen) and his girlfriend Tara (Lohan), at dinner. Christian’s a movie producer and has invited his assistant Gina (Amanda Brooks) out, along with her seemingly naive boyfriend Ryan (Nolan Funk), whom he’s just cast in a low budget horror flick as a favor. Christian is only in the business to keep his rich father happy and the money coming in, with his real interest being in making homemade porn with Tara and the various men and women they invite over. Tara’s mildly ashamed of this, but Christian is all too eager to tell Gina and Ryan about it. Christian may be a calculating creep, but Tara’s got secrets of her own, namely an affair with someone from her past. Christian cheats too, but when he finds out what Tara’s up to, he begins to plan something far darker than anyone would actually think him capable of. In between, there’s lots of sex had by all parties involved. This is equal parts Hollywood film noir and indie B movie, delighting in its own decadence.

Canyons3Once upon a time, Lindsey Lohan was one of the better up and coming young actresses in Hollywood. Obviously, personal demons have changed all that, but she’s still got talent, it’s just a matter of whether she decides to show it off or not. For the first time in a while, she’s done that, and the result is actually one of her top tier performances. It’s a realistic and lived in feeling piece of acting, totally lacking in artifice. Lohan seems engaged and invested, and it shows. As for porn star James Deen, he makes a serious play to be considered for more mainstream roles going forward. He’s playing a despicable character, but he’s got such charisma that the performance is rather captivating. Deen is obviously enjoying this part, which helps keep things from being too cold. They have an odd chemistry, and almost a toxic one it seems, but it benefits the movie, which requires them to be both emotionally as well as physically naked. Aside from them, Nolan Funk is incredibly bland, while Amanda Brooks doesn’t have much to do. In terms of supporting performances, Tenille Houston is bland as an ex of Christian’s, while Gus Van Sant cameos as Christian’s therapist. No one leaves an impression at all besides Deen and Lohan. They’re the ones who impress…everyone else is just kind of there.

Paul Schrader hasn’t been behind the camera in a while, but the writer turned director shows he’s still got it in him. This isn’t exactly his normal type of movie, but Schrader gives the flick a look to match the feel provided by the script. In that regard, Bret Easton Ellis has transferred the type of mood and people that he populates most of his novels with to this movie world. It’s full of cold, empty, and sad folks, which Schrader in turns imbues the film’s mood with. A little too often though, Ellis’ tone butts up against Schrader’s sensibilities, leading to certain scenes that don’t work as well as intended. Pretty much every sex scene here is an example of that, along with the climax.

Overall, The Canyons is much better than you’d expect, but at the same time perhaps not as good as Ellis and Schrader are capable of. No matter that, they still have provided us with a reminder of Lindsey Lohan’s buried talents and James Deen’s potential in a new field. As mentioned earlier, it’s really just a guilty pleasure type of flick, something that you almost like in spite of yourself. I’m not recommending it, but I do think it’s worth taking a look at if the curiosity gets the better of you. The Canyons is many things, but one thing it’s not is boring…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!