MRR Review: "Scenic Route"

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Mitchell and Carter are lifelong friends, but tensions rise after their truck breaks down on an isolated desert road as they start to attack each other's life decisions with unwavering brutality.
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MRR Review: "Scenic Route"

Rating: R (language, some violence, and one sexual scene)
Length: 85 minutes
Release Date: August 23, 2013
Directed by: Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz
Genre: Drama/Thriller

Carter (Dan Fogler) is a mess of a man who is approaching middle age and wondering what on earth happened to his life. He despairs over his friendship with lifelong pal Mitchell (Josh Duhamel), which he believes suffered when Mitchell married Joanne (Miracle Laurie). He attempts to reconnect with Mitchell, but in doing so sets up a series of very unfortunate events that may seal the fates of both men.

The two friends are in Carter's truck, which Mitchell does not realize now serves as Carter's home, since he is a failed, penniless writer who can't afford his rent. Yuppie Mitchell is also unaware that Carter has pulled a wire out of the engine of his truck in order to make it break down just as they are going through a little-traveled swatch of Death Valley. When help comes by, Carter explains that the truck isn't broken down and dismisses the help. Mitchell is angry over Carter's deception, but that is nothing compared to his anger when they realize that the truck is indeed broken down and won't start.

The two friends bicker as Carter explains that all he wanted to do was have some quiet time in the desert with his friend in order to reconnect. Carter then starts haranguing Mitchell, accusing him of selling out an aspiring music career in order to marry a woman he doesn't really love. This leads to a series of escalating arguments as the men are trapped overnight without food or water. After shaving his hair into a mohawk, Mitchell starts to panic and becomes increasingly irritable at Carter's irresponsibility. Desperation, thirst, and hunger set in, and the two men turn on each other, leaving one of them on the brink of death. Will one or both survive, or will they become victims of a plan gone wrong?

Tales of survival in the dessert are nothing new to the film industry, but the groups of people who usually get stranded in these films are rarely as intimately connected as the two friends in "Scenic Route." In fact, stranded people in films are often strangers, ensuring that they have a hard time relating to each other or forming any kind of bond that could help them get out of the situations they find themselves in. That is not the case here, because Mitchell and Carter are lifelong friends who know each other almost too well. This rich past and the closeness between the two leads helps to ratchet up the tension and makes their reactions to each other more realistic. People often put their best face forward for strangers in order to make a good first impression. Since Mitchell and Carter are not strangers, they are past this point and instead opt for letting all of their emotions hang out, which makes some of their scenes feel satisfyingly raw.

Josh Duhamel made a career out of playing the pretty boy in romantic comedies, later becoming a bona fide action film star in the three "Transformers" movies. "Scenic Route" is a big change from his normal movie fare, which gives him a chance to stretch his acting muscles and show that he can be more than just the romantic lead. He can show emotion of the highest level, portraying Mitchell as a man who knows a thing or two about regret. Sure, much of what Carter is saying to him is true, but Mitchell is calculated in his reactions at first, which shows in Duhamel's voice and eyes. Everything he says in defense of his choices cackles with the sorrow of a man who realizes that he may have gone down the wrong path in life. As his character begins to break down from the heat and lack of food and water, the regret turns to anger and later rage in a fantastic performance that is easily the best so far of Duhamel's career.

Screenwriter Kyle Killen has written a taut script that establishes these two men as good friends and then builds upon that premise with great precision. This is no surprise, since he has done character studies in his previous television efforts, including the tragically canceled "Lone Star" and more recently in the NBC drama "Awake." He is no stranger to digging deep into a man's psyche to see what is there. This unflinching approach to the script helps make "Scenic Route" a daring movie with an unlikely cast that provokes and entertains in equal measure.

Rating: 3 out 5