Since Mud, Tye Sheridan has been on Hollywood’s up and coming list of young talent. The charismatic actor has put together a decent resume en route to his latest film, Christopher Smith’s Detour, which is a highly stylized experiment in duality. The narrative structure poses new challenges to be tackled by this talented young cast, and the neo noir 90’s grunge inspired approach, offers fresh, but innately familiar imagery. The problem with the structural conceit, is that synopsizing Detour becomes a laborious task. To give a brief overview would be misleading, but to delve to deep beyond the first act, would spoil the whole movie. This is a gimmick laden production, whose schtick wears thin as the story progresses, and becomes more of a distraction than a vessel for entertainment or intellectual nourishment.
Sheridan stars as Harper, a hapless and reserved law student suffering from depression over the state of his mother, who is currently comatose and balancing on the razor thin edge life and death. Harper’s distress for his mother seems only matched by his seething infuriation for his step father Vincent (Stephen Moyer), whom he believes is the responsible party in the accident that disabled his mother. Harper comes across–hard headed, fast talking hood, Johnny (Emory Cohen) in a bar and the two strike up a volatile acquaintanceship which leads Harper down a rabbit hole of malevolence. The conversation quickly turns dark, when Harper tries to garner a casual response to a scathingly venomous question: How much would it cost for someone to “take care” of Vincent?
This results in Johnny arriving on Harper’s doorstep, ostensibly challenging him to put his money where his mouth is. Here is where the gimmick sets in, and our would be protagonist fractures. He can either stay behind, ignoring Johnny’s beckoning, or, he can follow through with his baser instincts and hit the road with Johnny and his tag along, Cherry (Bel Powley). This is the first twist, as Detour’s narrative splits like a blackjack hand and we get to see two sides of the same coin. At one of the alternate time lines, Harper hits the road with the troublesome duo to intercept Vincent in Vegas and confront him on his misdeeds, which would lead to a violent end. The separate scenario has Harper casting out Johnny and confronting Vincent on his own. The fork in the road breeds conflict on either side, both of which could see Harper’s fate reach a vicious resolution.
Smith’s neo noir film has serious pacing problems. The long winded exchanges and heavy handed grandstanding become a detriment to a narrative too reliant on dialogue, which for a film meant to have veritable grit, is an issue. While Smith has proven to be a versatile filmmaker, with forays into horror, thriller, and even comedies, his attempt at grunge inspired noir, is not that inspired at all. He plays all the right notes, pouring in the finest of cinematic tricks, from wide angle formatting, open visuals, a well suited soundtrack, and dueling montages that give us insight into the parallel plots, but it’s all style and no substance. Where the film hurts most is in it’s over glamorized production, and utter failure to allow the talented cast to dig in and just work the material.
The backdrop, which is actually South Africa, serves as a potent setting for a road movie that takes place between California and Vegas, but feels underutilized, since no action actually takes place on the road. In fact, no action really takes place at all. Most of the violence, both visualized and implied, is directed at our female lead–Cherry. Detour takes aim at women, and paints them in a harsh light, which may have been inadvertent, but still noticeably disparaging and even downright misogynistic at times. All of the female characters are either in a coma, in food service, or are hookers and strippers. That is where the story unwinds. There is never a clear cut explanation for Cherry’s role, or why she’s hitched herself to Johnny. She seems to be the brighter of the two, and has her fair share of moments where she gives as good as she gets, so her submission of power is confusing and enigmatic. Bel Powley navigates her character as gracefully as she can, and is poetically resilient, preventing Cherry from being reduced to mere damsel in distress and adding a touch of femme fatale. Emory Cohen is the heel to a potentially provocative trio. His role opposite Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, displayed elegance. His rendition of Johnny feels rushed and over acted. He struggles to adequately provoke the necessary angst needed to pull off the tough guy, and never feels intimidating, only loud.
Tye Sheridan is the attraction to the film, and is proportionately, it’s best asset. He manages to harmoniously balance between the two frictioning narratives with veterans ease. Harper is in way over his head, and that frantic urgency that carries throughout, becomes the most palpable and authentic portion. Sheridan does his best to keep this train on the tracks, and successfully so. Smith Struggles to provide a coherent story, he seems at odds with himself. There is simply too much time spent wasted on shots that meander in the name of aesthetics and showmanship, and not enough developing a reasonable plot with three dimensional characters whose actions ring true. This is a compelling story, if told correctly, but the clunky dialogue, and lack of soluble action, prevents this film from overcoming the hubris of it’s director. Detour is an ambitious experiment, but is without a clear vision, thus eliminating the opportunity for emotional resonance.
2.8/5 Do Better Bro