(click here for all TIFF 2014 reviews)
(click here for all TIFF 2014 reviews)
* (out of four)
In 1953's Inferno, an evil, sexy, shot-in-Technicolor Rhonda Fleming and her lover left an incapacitated Robert Ryan in the desert to die. This was a mistake; any noir lover knows that, if you have the chance to kill Robert Ryan, you kill him. Robert Ryan had no patience to wait for the Grim Reaper. Not only does Ryan survive his desert ordeal, he seeks violent retribution against those who have wronged him. And he does it in 3-D.
Inferno was the first movie that popped into my head while watching The Reach. Jean-Baptiste Leonetti's latest doesn't cite Inferno as an influence (it's actually based on a 1972 novel called Deathwatch), but the plot is similar: Ben (Jeremy Irvine) is left in the desert to die by a traitorous business partner of sorts named Madec (Michael Douglas). Madec shows up in the Mojave desert driving a $500,000 Mercedes-Benz six-wheeled truck, complete with cappucino maker, toaster oven and martini maker. He wants expert desert tracker Ben to guide him into the Mojave to illegally hunt a big-horned ram. The town sheriff (Ronny Cox) looks the other way after seeing the color of Madec's money, money Ben could sorely use in order to chase his girlfriend to her college town. He takes the job against his better judgment.
When things go awry, and Ben gets forced to brave the elements, a second movie popped in my head: 1986's The Hitcher. In that film, C. Thomas Howell picks up a killer hitchhiker (Rutger Hauer) who makes his life a living hell. Hauer has a supernatural ability to show up whenever it seems Howell has escaped or may be saved. In The Reach, after Madec shoots a person instead of a sheep, he frames Ben, then forces him to strip to his BVD's and bare feet and walk the desert until he's a crispy-fried British actor. Whenever Ben uses his skills to get water or some clothing, Madec shows up out of nowhere to fuck up his survival plans.
Madec's appearances are just as absurd as Hauer's hitchhiker--in fact, they make The Reach look like a rip-off of Eric Red's nightmarish classic. The difference is: Rutger Hauer's character is scary and convincing. Michael Douglas' Madec is neither of these, not even when armed with a rifle that "shoots like a missile."
The multi-talented Douglas is equally adept at playing predator or prey, though I've always found him more compelling as the former. He can play evil and sexy; he can play evil and charming, too. What The Reach proves is that he cannot play evil and psychotic. He's about as terrifying as tumbleweed, and forced to utter slasher movie lines that would make Freddy Krueger disembowel his screenwriter. During one of the exactly 700 million times Madec corners Ben, Douglas uttters the worst line of his career:
"Fool me once, shame on you," he says. "Fool me twice, I KILLLLLLLLL YOUUUUUU!!!!!!"
This movie does not make one lick of sense, and it lacks the suspense or terror to make us forget its illogic. So you're left to question its every move. Did Madec intentionally kill that guy? I mean, human beings don't look like big ass rams, so it must have been part of the plan, right? Why did the murder victim conveniently bury things in the desert for Ben to find? Why doesn't Ben flinch when Madec fires bullets dangerously close to his prone body? How does Ben know Madec is going to his helicopter? Why does Madec's deal to sell his company to China hinge on Ben's death? And why would a certain character go back into trouble after he gets away from it?
I've been chewed out for calling this a "horror movie," but when a movie has a dream sequence of a killer showing up to murder his victim, and then the victim wakes up to find the killer is actually in the room, you know you're not watching a Merchant-Ivory movie.
The only things The Reach has going for it are Madec's Mercedes-Benz and the convincingly gruesome burn makeup effects used to turn the star of War Horse into The English Patient. Look for pictures of the F/X and the Mercedes on the internet and save your money.
As an aside: Michael Douglas sat behind me during the screening here at TIFF. He looked great and expressed fond enthusiasm for the movie during the Q&A. I'm so glad he was behind me during the movie; had he been in front of me, he might have turned around and seen me rolling my eyes like a slot machine for 90 minutes. I would have been embarrassed had he caught me. Embarrased, but not sorry.