‘The Canyons’ Review: Unremarkable In Every Way

By  · Published on July 31st, 2013

If you’re expecting this to be a raging takedown of Paul Schrader’s skeevy-seeming flick, you’re going to be disappointed. Coincidentally, that’s the emotion you’ll be left with if you see The Canyons and expect anything but a stream of beige Ambien with a side of stale popcorn. It’s a movie unworthy of snark or derision because despite trying so, so hard to be controversial, it merely manages to be dull. It is exactly the worst thing you can call a movie of its kind: average.

Mostly bored with his life, trust fund baby Christian (James Deen) is making a movie to satisfy a father who disapproves of his laziness. He thinks so little of the endeavor that he’s put his assistant Gina (Amanda Brooks) in charge of it in a move that she misinterprets as respectful elevation, but what our main man is really interested in is finding people online to share his girlfriend Tara (Lindsay Lohan) with sexually. When he learns that she’s been cheating on him with a piece of wet cardboard actor named Ryan (Nolan Funk), he loses it and begins trying to systematically destroy the people around him.

To get it out of the way upfront, there’s a chance (maybe a good one) that Schrader and screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis intentionally set out to make a boring movie. If that’s the case, they succeeded with crawling colors by having nothing new to say and torturing their performers with a supreme lack of momentum and content.

But just as the cow who chews its cud eventually drops a steaming pile, author intent alone doesn’t make the creation worth ingesting.

The biggest flaw is scene work that drags long past the point it was trying to make. The dull dinner conversation is followed by two characters talking about what was said at the dinner, which is followed by other characters talking about what other people talked about, which is followed by people talking about how people talked about the people doing the talking earlier. It’s a game of telephone that the dial tone is winning.

That plus repeated (almost desperate-sounding) rhetorical statements about how hot Tara is and sprinkles of Tara and/or Christian and/or Christian’s mistress or Ryan and/or strangers from the internet having sex makes up the entirety of the plot for most of the runtime. And before your eyelids half open at the prospect of steamy sequences, Schrader and company manage to make the tawdry parts seem tame. Somehow, they shot a run-of-the-mill foursome.

Which of course, yes, they were meant to be that way. The Canyons is trying to make a statement about the blah blah of blah blah culture in America, but if Schrader really focused on that as a goal, he’s mistaken “making a boring movie” for “ saying something profound about the nature of boredom.”

The acting is also a big problem. Deen is the only one without a sense of inertia, but he acts so flatly manic that he ends up looking like the drunk soccer fanatic who runs into a chess tournament thinking it’s an open field. The limp dialogue and repetitive situations don’t really offer them any lifelines. Even strong actors would be stranded.

Beyond all that, the epitaph here is that it’s struggling so violently to be shocking. Grandmothers everywhere might be aghast (except a few I know), but for the most part, the story is trying to mine depravity from the fact that people have open relationships, or that they look online for casual encounters, or that two men kiss. It’s all so ho-hum that the Midnight Cowboy presentation makes it seem silly.

Ultimately it’s not good, but it’s also not so bad that it’s entertaining. Amateur work from veterans who blithely execute a passion project that sends one man into the heart of meh, whatever. The Canyons is mostly uninteresting and wholly unremarkable.

The Upside: A fairly standard madness story, the camera is pointed at the actors, and the movie won’t stab you in the ear or anything

The Downside: Yawn-worthy everything

On the Side: Did you guys know that Sharknado is getting some theatrical runs? Crazy, huh?

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.