“Do you really like movies?” asks Tara (Lindsay Lohan), a sexy model/actress-cum-plaything, somewhere in midst of The Canyons. The makers of this pulpy “erotic” thriller apparently don’t, or at least don’t anymore, bookending the film and punctuating unnecessary chapter breaks with still images of dilapidated cinemas, odes to director Paul Schrader’s height as the screenwriter of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Nor do scribe Bret Easton Ellis’ characters, whose livelihoods and fates depend on the production of a trashy horror movie that none thinks will be any good.
Trust-fund kid Christian (prolific porn star James Deen) hasn’t even read the script, but he’s producing it to keep his dad off his back. Christian’s girlfriend Tara was intimately involved with the production until about a month ago, when she rekindled an affair with the leading man. For Ryan (Nolan Funk), it’s the break he’s been waiting for after years of toiling in modeling, bartending and other odd jobs. Only Gina (Amanda Brooks)—assistant to Christian and girlfriend to Ryan—is truly invested in the project.
When Christian discovers Tara’s infidelity, he embarks on an escalating campaign to exert power and control over her and everyone else involved. Only the couple already regularly partakes in swinging with strangers, and there’s nothing particularly compelling about Tara, to Christian anyway, other than that she’s hot in a town where hotties are a dime a dozen. When Christian is asked, “Why does it matter?” one can’t help but wonder, “Yeah, why does it?”
That’s not Lohan’s fault—she actually delivers some nicely subtle reaction work when she’s not saddled with Ellis’ inanely expositional and repetitive dialogue. The Canyons demonstrates a profound lack of trust in and respect for its audience, overexplaining backstory when just a hint will do and then repeating that information ad nauseam with weirdly halting pacing against distracting visual flourishes.
Deen, too, who’s starred in literally thousands of skin flicks, won’t break into mainstream movies like Ellis (who recruited him online) hoped he would, hindered as he is by some of the douchiest clichés this side of Showgirls. Actually, Paul Verhoeven’s cult classic isn’t even a fair comparison—The Canyons lacks the energy and, frankly, gratuitousness for so-bad-it’s-good midnight programming.
Filmed in some of the most recognizable spots around town, including the Century City shopping mall, Café Med and Amoeba (as well as Schrader’s own Malibu home), the film is also at times strangely unspecific. Like, there’s no way a rich kid like Christian would drink water from the tap. And there’s no way Tara wouldn’t discover her phone had been swapped out until the next morning. Then, despite tiptoeing around the bedroom out of fear she’ll wake Christian, she calls it. Repeatedly.
Partly funded by Kickstarter and notoriously troubled (the New York Times did a blow-by-blow behind-the-scenes expose in January), The Canyons is hardly worth the effort, an impotent attempt at contemporary noir that ultimately can’t perform.
Director: Paul Schrader
Writer: Bret Easton Ellis
Starring: Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Funk, Amanda Brooks, Tenille Houston, Gus Van Sant
Release Date: Aug. 2, 2013