The Canyons

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Release Date: August 2, 2013
Runtime: 99 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Studio: IFC Films
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Lindsay Lohan; James Deen; Nolan Gerard Funk; Amanda Brooks; Gus Van Sant

You would think that a collaboration between the writer/director of “American Gigolo” and “Hardcore” and the writer of “American Psycho” and “Less Than Zero” would make for some titillating cinema. As it turns out, it’s more lukewarm bath than sizzling heat.

First of all, let’s get the elephant in the room taken care of: Lindsay Lohan can act. She really is a natural and her acting in “The Canyons” has a raw and believable quality that, at times, can be uncomfortable to watch. Even though it’s a role probably not so far removed from her real life, or what the public perceives to be her real life, that aspect probably only enhances an already brave performance. Say what you will, the girl has an innate talent and the emotional impact of her acting in “The Canyons” strikes a nerve.

The story revolves around four desperate Hollywood denizens: Christian (James Deen), a trust fund baby and sometime B-movie producer who is currently producing a low-grade slasher movie; Tara (Lohan), Christian’s girlfriend and former model-type who basically exists to enjoy the life being Christian’s girlfriend affords her; Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk), the “star” of Christian’s latest movie and your typical Hollywood struggling actor/model/bartender; and Gina (Amanda Brooks), Christian’s assistant and Ryan’s girlfriend – the most normal one in the entire movie. As writer Bret Easton Ellis’s narrative moves forward, we learn that Tara and Ryan were at one point, and possibly still are, an item, unbeknownst to Christian who would not take this news lightly. Christian, for his part, is carrying on an affair with his hot yoga instructor (Tenille Houston), who figures late in the plot.

Every character in the movie seems to be using sex as currency and/or a tool for manipulation. This is fine and has also featured in some of Ellis’s previous work, but the issue I had with it in “The Canyons” is that is doesn’t seem to be serving any point. In “Less Than Zero,” for instance, sex was used as currency to underscore the point that in a drug-induced downward spiral, people will do anything to feed their habit. Here, with the exception of one standalone scene where Ryan is pressured into a casting couch situation, what point is the “sex-as-manipulation” tactic underscoring? That rich Hollywood kids are bored and need something to do? Hardly breaking news. The whole movie, unfortunately, seems to have that air of “what’s the point?” I’m not sure I walked away with any sort of message or profound commentary on anything from this movie. What’s left is to just watch the actors.

I’ve already covered Lohan, so let’s move on to the rest of them. James Deen, porn superstar, is making his mainstream feature debut here and, bless his heart, I wanted him to impress me, but he just didn’t pull it off. Christian, as written, needs to be almost a high-gloss, Beverly Hills version of a bully and Deen, in my opinion, just didn’t have the chops for me to suspend my disbelief. Maybe give him some more acting lessons and perhaps he can work his way up to a meaty role like this, but here his inexperience as a mainstream actor shows and it’s distracting. Nolan Gerard Funk is your typical pretty boy and his acting is nothing extraordinary, but he grew on me as the story went on and he was given more to do. Brooks was fine, bland, but to be fair, her part didn’t call for much more than that. All other performers are serviceable. Watch for Gus Van Sant in a short cameo as Christian’s therapist.

As for the much-ballyhooed sex? Lohan and Deen get naked, as do other peripheral characters. If you’ve been keeping up with the press on this movie, you will know that there is a four-way sex scene involving Lohan, Deen, and two extras. It’s nothing that an R-rating won’t allow and the scene is dimly shot with the added distraction of a disco-ball throwing light around the room. So you see breasts and kissing, but not too much else. I mean, it’s Unrated, but the sex and nudity adhere to all R-rating standards.

So there you have it. It wants to be a sleazy noir-type movie but, when all is said and done, it reminded me of one of those scratch-and-sniff stickers. Except when you scratch the sticker, you turn up your nose ‘cause it stinks.

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