written and directed by Alex Cox
starring Del Zamora, Ed Pansullo, Jaclyn Jonet, Sy Richardson. Zahn McClarnon
The dusty trail leads a trio of wanderers through vast graveyards of empty spaces; the unforgiving desert where impossible dreams are hatched and people are utterly dwarfed by the landscape. Shot for $200,000 on DV, Cox brings a vibrant story of longing and justice.
Mel Torres (Zamora) and Fred Fletcher (Pansullo) are two old actors who have hitched up to a plan. They have decided to head out to Monumental Valley in Arizona to kick the ass of Fritz Frobisher (Richardson). , a screen writer who tortured them when they were child actors. They are seeking revenge but they have all but convinced themselves that it is justice they are after. Throughout the film there are dozens of film references mostly in the action or war genres that these men have grown up on. They get into an argument as to who is better: Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson. Fred names a great number of what he considers to be the greatest war films ever made. Delilah (Jonet) is having none of it because she is of a completely different generation and all these macho films do not resonate with her. When Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is mentioned she says it’s a gay film and Fred says, “No, that’s Brokeback Mountain.
Much of the joy of this film is derived from the scenery that surrounds them as they drive along the desert on the way to their destination. This is a road movie with three characters who don’t exactly know what they are after in the first place. It starts out as a quest to beat up old man Frobisher but quickly turns into something else entirely. They want something, anything, but are unable to fully articulate it. Delilah has a bumper sticker on her SUV that says, “Kick their ass and take their oil.” This causes great distress to Fred who considers that it might be offensive to someone who might apprehend it. Delilah doesn’t bite and maintains her cool distance. She is the type of girl who has read “No Logos” and decided that she will not get gas at any station that displays a sign. Naturally, they end up running out of gas several times and end up at a station run by a young man named Rusty (McClarnon) who himself claims to have been tormented in a film by Fred in such a way that he never acted again. It turns out that Rusty is the grandson of Frobisher and doesn’t hold a grudge.
Delilah is a fascinating character who reads the aforementioned book and Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” over and again. She’s not particularly interested in the specifics of the search but seems to be enjoying her sarcasm and deep derision for Fred. What she wants is not so clear but it certainly doesn’t involve smashing in the teeth of some geezer who might have gotten a bit out of hand with the kiddies during the making of the film.
Essentially this is a gravely funny film with characters who seem like the kind of people who are driven by forces they do not readily understand. They are being dragged into the desert which doesn’t much care about their trivial difficulties in locating Frobisher and taking him out.
The film is quite simple and sparse and is driven almost entirely by dialog. The men are simply obsessed with cinema and seem capable of talking about it ad nauseum. They are students of the action and war genres and have nearly encyclopedic knowledge that almost gets in the way of an actual story. Indeed, there is very little of what would constitute a narrative in this film. Mostly its just driving and discussing the many nuances of a specific type of cinema that stimulates Fred and Mel like nothing else can. But it works because the characters are so compelling and earnest about their passion for cinema. This film could pass for a good primer for the genres mentioned and sometimes it feels as if that is all it has to offer. However, the landscape and complexities of the relationships between the three protagonists drive the film toward a rather unexpected yet thrilling conclusion.
There are many moments between the yammering where this film takes on epic dimensions that are quietly rendered and beautifully shot.
The performances in this film are a mixed bag. Del Zamora has a natural quality that is inviting and thoroughly believable. Ed Pansullo seems to be overacting on occasion and it takes a considerable length of time to get used to him. Nevertheless, once his character sinks in it’s easier to take the overemphasis he places on his various utterances. Sy Richardson is just cool in his brief role. He’s exceedingly well dressed and promotes an essence of poetry in his characterization. He’s mesmeric and truly riveting.
Overall, this film works well as a type of buddy picture/road movie that is interrupted by the inclusion of a bored, unyielding young woman who seems to want to be anywhere but on the road with two men she has direct animus for. The characters are well-rounded and the amount of movie references sometimes stops the narrative dead. Still, it’s a relatively effective film that is well-shot and occasionally infectious.