‘THE CANYONS’ 1⁄2★
Tara Lindsay Lohan
Christian James Deen
Ryan Nolan Gerard Funk
Gina Amanda Brooks
IFC Films presents a film directed by Paul Schrader and written by Bret Easton Ellis. Running time: 99 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at Facets Cinémathèque and available on video on demand.
Updated: September 17, 2013 7:07AM
The best acting in “The Canyons” is done by the porn star.
That might be all you need to know about this film, which is the kind of vapid, self-consciously artsy, waste-of-time movie that might never have seen the light of day (or the dark of theater) and would have gone straight to VOD were it not for the triple-threat name-recognition trio of the actress Lindsay Lohan, the director Paul Schrader and the writer Bret Easton Ellis.
All three have done excellent, provocative work in the past — but in this case, the triple-threat is a three-pronged assault against good taste.
Schrader is the writer of “Taxi Driver,” and he has a surprisingly eclectic filmography as a director, having helmed “Cat People,” “Light of Day” and “Auto-Focus,” to name just three of his better efforts.
Ellis is the talented, polarizing, nihilistic voice behind “Less Than Zero,” “American Psycho” and “The Informers.” I don’t think he’s ever gonna go warm and fuzzy on us.
As for Ms. Lohan, when we talk about her talents as an actress, we inevitably cite “Mean Girls,” and maybe her supporting work in films such as “Bobby” and “A Prairie Home Companion.”
But here’s the thing. “Mean Girls” was nearly a decade ago. The latter two films were released in 2006. Since then, Lohan’s depressing string of self-destructive behavior has far eclipsed her work, which, sad to say, has been consistently dreadful for a half-dozen years.
In “The Canyons,” Lohan hits rock bottom with a performance that might even be more painful to watch than her work in that campy “Liz & Dick” TV movie. Her voice is husky to the point of near-ruin. She wears streetwalker makeup. At times she seems to be looking offscreen for guidance, or maybe the next line, as she delivers her dialogue with as much conviction as someone asking Siri for directions. It’s a boring train wreck.
As is the film itself, another story of attractive, empty-vessel humans skirting around the edges of Hollywood engaging in casual conversation, casual sex, casual substance abuse and casual cruelty.
Separating each scene with title cards showing long-shuttered movie theaters in ruin, Schrader seems to be telling us something about the death of movies, even as he spins a pseudo-noir tale of vapid, mostly seedy wannabes who are connected by a low-budget horror movie to be filmed in New Mexico.
James Deen, the aforementioned porn actor, is Christian, a handsome, wealthy, manipulative, sex-obsessed trust-fund brat. (Christian? Shades of “Shades of Grey,” anyone?) Lohan is his girlfriend Tara, who dresses and wears her hair like one of the temptresses on “Mad Men.” She’s a dull, been-around-the-block bombshell with no ambition beyond the gym, the pool, the next drink and the bedroom. The characters in “The Canyons” prattle on about how beautiful and mesmerizing Tara is, but she comes across as an insecure, shallow, rapidly aging party girl who can barely sustain a conversation through a full meal. What’s there to love?
Nolan Gerard Funk is Ryan, an ambitious, dopey young hunk looking for his first big acting break as the lead in the horror film Christian is bankrolling. Amanda Brooks is Ryan’s girlfriend Gina, the closest thing to a likable human being in this story, were it not for the fact she’s Christian’s assistant and she doesn’t seem to care she’s working for a monster who’s upfront about being a monster.
Like everyone else in “The Canyons,” Christian is obsessed with his cellphone. Even though he’s worth untold millions, the cellphone camera is his device of choice for recording threesomes and foursomes involving himself, Tara and random prospects they find on the Internet. Christian couldn’t care less about Tara sleeping with other men (and women) in front of him — but he goes ballistic at the prospect of Tara seeing Ryan behind his back. Deen actually does a fine job of playing a guy who’s clearly disturbed and yet so self-confident you can almost see why a certain type of insecure woman keeps flocking to him. Almost.
Lohan is topless in nearly every other scene, and “The Canyons” features some pretty graphic if overly artsy sexual encounters — but it’s about as erotic as a low-budget porn movie. Schrader alternates between achingly dull, static camera shots and jiggly, hand-held stuff that seems right out of the independent movement circa 1995. Ellis’ screenplay requires the characters to talk and behave like morons. On a number of occasions when one character is trying to extract information from someone at the behest of a third party, the inquisition is howlingly obvious.
The character that gets killed in this movie is the lucky one. At least that person doesn’t have to be in “The Canyons” anymore.