Those who have been following all the celebrities who are making movies following successful Kickstarter campaigns will probably remember hearing about "The Canyons," a film written by "American Psycho" author Bret Easton Ellis and directed by the writer of "Taxi Driver," Paul Schrader. "The Canyons" was, if memory serves correctly, the first of the successfully funded films by high profile filmmakers and how it was going to turn out was a point of interest among film aficionados, especially with the potentially disastrous decision to hire tabloid headliner Lindsay Lohan and pair her with porn star James Deen. Well, it's here and the outcome is less than enthralling.
Filmed on a budget of $250,000, about $150,000 of which came from Kickstarter, "The Canyons" tells the story of Christian (Deen), a movie producer developing a low budget film. His girlfriend Tara (Lohan) lives with him and helped to cast her friend Ryan in his new picture. But Tara's past with Ryan isn't as transparent as Christian would like and Christian uses any means necessary to find out who Ryan truly is to Tara with fatal consequences.
"The Canyons" starts off painfully slow, so much so that I was almost tempted to just call it quits, despite it being a film that I was genuinely interested in seeing. Fortunately, as the film progresses the plot takes hold and while it doesn't have a firm grip, it's definitely strong enough to maintain interest until the film ends.
I really wasn't sure what kind of film we would be ending up with. The trailers released were coy in their depiction and what they did show didn't look impressive. Deen looked particularly flat, with the type of acting that's usually becoming of those entering mainstream cinema - unconvincing and lacking any significant range, but aside from a few scenes where that type of acting comes through, Deen is surprisingly good, but certainly not great. If he were to get a few more roles in non-porn films, he might be able to hone his talent into a marketable skill outside the bedroom.
And now we come to Lindsay Lohan. I'm actually one of the few people who is rooting for her to overcome her demons and become a successful actress, although I've always thought her talent to be overrated. I'm happy to say that Lohan is a welcome addition to the film and probably elevates it past the melodrama it comes off as. Despite the terrific New York Times Magazine article, "This is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie," which painted her in a mostly negative light, describing in detail what director Paul Schrader had to deal with, including (but absolutely not limited to) a reluctance to film a contractually binding obligation four-way sex scene and her perpetual lateness, Lohan manages to shake off at least part of her off-screen persona and deliver a performance that should be hailed as a comeback for her. But even though she does a good job here, it's still not jaw-dropping.
The script by Bret Easton Ellis is the real problem with the film. Despite the movie being slow, the dialogue doesn't help make anything more interesting, at least within the first third of the movie. It feels stilted and derivative of itself, with phrases like, "I don't know what you're talking about" and "You're lying" sprinkled throughout like salt on a plate of fries. But the themes are patently Ellis: beautiful people doing ugly things.
"The Canyons" isn't a great movie by any means, but it's at least semi-interesting. The problem with a film funded through money gifted by family, friends and fans is that there are no longer any people to question things in the production. I'm not saying that studio interference is a good thing, it's usually not. But perhaps a rewrite of the script to make it tighter would have been appropriate. There's a built-in audience from fans of Schrader, Ellis and Lohan, but I can't see it taking off beyond that.