Scenic Route (US - BD RA)
Jonathan takes a desert road trip with Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler..
Life-long friends Mitchell (Josh Duhamel) and Carter (Dan Fogler) embark on a buddy trip but end up broken down in the middle of a hostile desert. As their situation becomes more deadly, they descend into a brutally honest assessment of each other's lives. Their close bond is tested by the harsh elements of nature and the unforgiving words traded back and forth. Soon their anger and fear pushes them into a deadly fight for their lives that is the ultimate test of their friendship. (From the Vertical Entertainment synopsis)
Scenic Route was one of those films playing at SXSW that I didn't go out of my way to see. I'll admit that the promotional image of Josh Duhamel with a mohawk and a bloodied face was intriguing, but I can't say I've ever cared much for Duhamel and Fogler's performances in other films. Duhamel was "the guy in the Transformers movies" and Fogler was "the crass R-rated comedy sidekick". If this movie does achieve one thing, it's convincing me that both of these actors are capable of better roles than the ones they're usually in. Neither performance inspires award consideration, but both actors get turns to be vicious and vulnerable and they sell the characters better than I thought they would. Duhamel proves especially capable with the dramatic material and I hope to see him take on more roles of this nature in the future.
The concept of two people stranded in the desert, arguing with each other, is a difficult one to sustain without a great script. This is where Scenic Route suffers. The writing isn't bad, but its lacking that special something that keeps the viewer wanting to tag along. Mitchell is your usual unhappy family man while Carter is the struggling artist type. Not every character needs to feel like a unique invention, but neither Mitchell nor Carter feel fleshed out beyond these basic archetypes. The script also has some stupid referential moments. This is the kind of script that wants to make sure you know the mohawk is a Taxi Driver reference, so the character will point it out. Still, there is something watchable about two people arguing and losing their minds. Their increasingly irrational decisions feel plausible given the setting. Cooking during the day and freezing at night, drinking only windshield wiper fluid from under the hood of the car, anybody would lose it.
The prologue and promotional materials do you the favor of letting you know that this arguing will eventually result in a violent altercation. This promise keeps the opening half of the film tense as you wait for that line to be crossed, but once the fight happens the movie seems unsure of what to do with itself for the remainder of the runtime. The fight doesn't seriously alter the direction of the story, but it does give it some welcome dark edge. The movie only really gets interesting in its final moments where it shows a little unexpected ambiguity, but it feels out of place and doesn't make for a very satisfying conclusion either way you look at it.
This 1080p transfer from Vertical Entertainment is a capable one. This is the first blu-ray I've seen from this company and the quality is about what I'd expect from a Magnolia release. As you'd expect of a film shot in the desert, you're looking at a warm palette here. There's an unnatural yellowness that presides over the picture for extra effect. The colors only really change during a flashback sequence and the nighttime scenes. It was shot on the Arri Alexa and looks great for the most part. The darker scenes betray the digital nature of the picture some. It isn't DNR, but the image looks a little scrubbed. I notice a similar effect when I use too much optical zoom on my digital camera. It was only really apparent in one scene, and is likely a side effect of the compression process. Most of this movie looks great though. Sean O'Dea's cinematography is one of the film's greatest strengths. When the script gets monotonous he at least finds ways to make the movie visually stimulating. The scuffle between the two leads is also well executed.
This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does the job in a movie where a surround mix really doesn't have much to do. The desert setting isn't too lively, and from time to time the rear channels will work to pick up a breeze, but this is mostly a front and center show. The good news is the stereo front channels get a lot of attention so the mix never feels too dead. The primary focus of this track is dialogue, and it is always very easy to make out. Be it crammed inside a truck, snuggling in a hole in the sand, or just arguing in the vast desert landscape, the voices feel like they fit the environment without losing any sound quality or discernibility. There's not much excitement here, but the track does its job in a movie that doesn't require fancy bells and whistles in the sound department.
The only extra on this disc is an Audio Commentary with the Goetz Brothers and Josh Duhamel. Duhamel and the Goetz brothers recorded it together, and they love to pay each other compliments. They seem to have a great rapport which makes listening to them more pleasant. Duhamel gives some insight into the preparation he did for the performance. The directing team talk a lot more about the filming process and what it was like trying to shoot a film in such a harsh location. It's a good listen for fans of the film.
Scenic Route doesn't have enough going for it to sustain its modest 86 minute runtime. It is difficult to keep a movie about two characters in one location interesting, and unfortunately the filmmakers do not pull it off. The lead characters are unpleasant, yet they aren't interesting enough to have any fun despising. It drags in the latter half before sailing into an interesting but flawed finale. If there's one thing it did for me, it's prove that Duhamel is capable of greater roles. He does a good job with the material he is given. This Blu-ray release is strong in the technical department, but the only extra is a commentary.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 17th September 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH
Extras: Audio Commentary with Goetz Brothers and Josh Duhamel
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Dan Fogler, Miracle Laurie
Genre: Drama and Thriller
Length: 86 minutes
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