Anyone who read Stephen Rodrick’s The New York Times account of the chaotic production on The Canyons and expected a voyeuristic car crash of the so-bad-it’s-good variety will surely be disappointed. Nowhere near as bad as you’d gleefully hope, and nowhere near as good as it could have been.
Up-sold as a ‘tongue-in-cheek retro erotic thriller’, in reality it’s a humourless, dead-eyed, dated mediocrity, pitched at the same hysterical Hitchcock-homage tone that succeeded so trashily in Basic Instinct – but lacking any of that guilty pleasure’s unintentional comedy, raunch or pulp-y dramatic propulsion.
This despite boasting Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho-lite script, American Gigolo director Paul Schrader, tabloid staple Lindsay Lohan, porn star James Deen and a Gus Van Sant cameo on board. On paper, the ingredients for an intriguing combo of life-art crossover, artistic schadenfreude and nihilist gloss. But lord, it’s cheap and weak.
Part funded by Kickstarter, re-mortgaged condos and the sale of a money clip De Niro gave Schrader on Taxi Driver, the alleged $250k budget doesn’t stretch to a decent sound mix or lighting, with low-fi cinematography that recalls a valleys skin-flick more than canyons thriller.
And extends to the melodramatic screenplay which sees controlling trustafarian Christian (Deen, passable) make his trophy girlfriend Tara (Lohan) work for her bed and board via a series of sexual hook-ups before going Patrick Bateman on her when he suspects her of having an affair with an unremarkable actor (unremarkable Funk).
That set-up requires Lohan to never knowingly wear a bra, get her boobs out within 13 mins and later participate in an unerotic orgy during which she breaks the fourth wall, smiling down the lens – the only genuinely disquieting moment.
Sex in Hollywood, see, is hollow, vapid, a transaction… and, in some dodgy messaging, hetero sex denotes power and abandonment while gay sex is a tool for punishment and humiliation. Grubby and meh.
Neither a masterpiece nor a piece of shit, The Canyons is what happens when the off-screen story is far more interesting than the on-screen.