News Column

Movie Review: 'The Canyons' -- 1.5 stars

August 1, 2013


Aug. 01--The Canyons

After all the hype and fervent pre-release speculation about on-set meltdowns and four-way sex scenes, "The Canyons" finally arrives in theaters and on demand. And it's a tepid dud.

If you've been living in hermetically-sealed isolation for these past months, here's a quick primer: Lindsay Lohan takes a break from starring in the news section to actually act in, you know, a movie, playing the lead alongside porn star James Deen in director Paul Schrader's and screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis' low-budget, partly crowd-financed look at L.A.'s nefarious, spoiled youth.

Lohan plays Tara, girlfriend of vapid trust-fund sleazebag Christian (Deen). The couple has one basic hobby: trolling the web for men and other couples to have sex with them inside their slick Hollywood Hills mansion.

At the same time, the jealousy-prone Christian is producing a movie that will star struggling actor Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk), who has a longstanding personal history with Tara.

Schrader and Ellis conceived the movie as what the former calls cinema for the "post-theatrical era," a film in and of a world dominated by smartphones, instant technology and fraying attention spans. As such, the flick includes montages of decayed, crumbling movie theaters, a motif of characters glued to their various devices and a cold, clinical portrait of sexual encounters.

In other words, "The Canyons" tells a classic Bret Easton Ellis story, linked to everything from "Less Than Zero" to "American Psycho" through its dwelling in the sadistic disaffection of the over-privileged.

But the stars leave a lot to be desired. Lohan hasn't forgotten how to act; she just seems overwhelmed by the victimized character. Deen, on the other hand, gives a performance that's so one-note in its snake-like qualities that you wonder why Schrader cast him. It's hard to blame a porn star for his poor acting but there's not a single convincing emotional note from start to finish. He's so bad it's distracting.

This is a movie about people who don't like movies and it appears to have been made for that audience, with its antiseptic sensibility and absence of catharsis. There's no feeling, no energy, no sense of the internal lives behind these zombies. It's nihilism, personified.

And that's the point, it seems. Good on Schrader and Ellis for following through, making a film outside the system that comprehensively rejects all the audience-friendly conventions one might expect to take away from the moviegoing experience. But you'll leave it longing for some good old-fashioned Hollywood manipulation.


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