If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I just watched one of those late night Cinemax flicks that serve no purpose other than to satisfy adolescent boys who can’t crack the parental lock code on their internet. “The Canyons”, the new film from director Paul Schrader (“American Gigolo”) and writer Bret Easton Ellis (the author of “American Psycho”), has all the traits of such schlock, but unlike a typical after-hours offering on cable, doesn’t understand how incredibly silly it looks.
Advertised as an “erotic thriller”, the film plays a lot like a “Red Shoe Diaries” installment that actually expects us to take it seriously, if not to provoke some sort of controversy with the occasional poorly lit orgy. While there’s the distinct feeling that there’s supposed to be something more to it, perhaps some clever psychological study, the labored acting, redundant dialogue and general ugliness overwhelm any such effort, leaving us with a series of pointless encounters until it decides to go “Basic Instinct” at the last minute. With Lindsay Lohan and porn star James Deen as the top-billed talent, it’s bound to pique the curiosity of folks who are expecting to catch either a good train wreck or an experimental gem like Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience”, but it’s really just a marketing ploy for a film that will leave even the most ruttish teenager completely underwhelmed.
That’s all to say that “The Canyons” is, to put it mildly, terribly boring, even when it intends to shock (if you’ve seen a penis, you can probably handle it). Languishing under a vapid script, which as far as I can tell is only held together by F-bombs and blank stares, this pseudo-retro effort is dead in the water even before the end of its opening scene, a dinner sequence that attempts to establish the principle characters in their various Hollywood industry stereotypes but really just feels like there was some huge mix-up in casting.
Deen plays Christian, a privileged L.A. producer who becomes jealous when he suspects his part-time actor girlfriend Tara (Lohan) might be sleeping with her ex-boyfriend, a struggling actor name Ryan (Nolan Funk). It takes forever for this set-up to develop into anything, as we watch Christian satisfy his sexual appetite by inviting random people to join him and Tara in bed, all the while spying on her to see if she’s cheating on him (it’s all about control, he admits).
Most of the film consists of petty, passive-aggressive acts and manipulative behavior that play out with a junior high school mentality until it awkwardly shifts into “Psycho” mode late in the game. If for no other reason than to suggest that superficiality and narcissism go hand-in-hand (one might be inclined to rent “Cruel Intentions” for a similar observation), Schrader strains all emotion out of the characters – honestly, who the hell knows (or cares) what makes these people tick. Lohan, who’s the center of attention here as Tara, looks like an off-kilter mid-career Liz Taylor minus the desire to act, and with lines no more inspired than “I’m sorry I seemed so out of it and such”, seems so disinterested in the whole ordeal (despite having a co-producer credit) that it’s impossible to believe that she’d have two men rabidly obsessing over her. But it plods on at its nearly stagnant pace nonetheless.
As Christian’s dominant nature gives way to insecurity, he resorts to Facebook-stalking to find out what Tara’s up to and undermines Ryan by sabotaging an upcoming gig and hacking into his bank account (even though Ryan is apparently flat broke), all the while seeing another woman (Tenille Houston). Meanwhile, Ryan professes his undying love to Tara while shunning his girlfriend Gina, the only appealing soul of the bunch (played by the lovely Amanda Brooks, “This Thing With Sarah”). Unfortunately, Gina is sidelined for the majority of the movie, but it’s something Brooks might be grateful for down the line.
“The Canyons” exhibits zero charisma from its actors, who consistently deliver lines as if reading a text message. It’s a struggle to see any connection between these characters since everyone feels so detached from the script that none of the material has any impact, and if there’s a point, it’s completely elusive. That said, there is at least one believable conflict in this film, but it seems like it might have been happening behind the camera, not in front of it.