Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
Sometimes I wonder what the movie making powers that be are shooting for.  Take this movie 'The Canyons', directed by Paul Schrader and written by Bret Easton Ellis.  Those are a couple of heavy duty, albeit polarizing cats right there, at least in the small circles they run in.  But then these powers cast Lindsay Lohan, whose train wreck of a life is played out daily on TMZ and some cat named James Deen, Deen apparently an adult film star of note, knowing full well these decisions are going to invite nothing but derision from, well, everybody.  Personally, it don't make me no nevermind as my main hope is that Miss Lohan gets her life together, and as of today porn is still a honest way to make a buck.  But we do have 'The Canyons' to deal with, which I can't really call a good movie, but it sure was hard to peel away from.

Tara (Lohan) and Christian (Deen) are a couple vacuous Los Angelinos having dinner with Christian's equally vacuous executive assistant Gina (Amanda Brooks) and her boyfriend Ryan (Nolan Funk), a dude so vacuous he might as well not be there.  While the conversation between these four is less than scintillating, the things that are important that came out of this conversation is that Ryan, a STRUGGLING actor has been cast in a horror movie, produced by his girlfriend and Tara, while being financed by Christian.  Understand that Christian isn't a movie producer in the sense that he likes movies or is a hard, driven worker, he was just born into money and his old man has demanded that he do something akin to a job.  Christian chose to make movie.  Must be nice.  That's one important thing that came out of that dinner.  The other important thing is that Christian and Tara like to invite folks over to Christian's palatial estate and engage in all kinds of sexual depravity.  Christian is fairly open about this, while Tara wouldn't mind if Christian would keep a few things private between grown folks. 
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But apparently there's some conflict going on as Tara and Ryan used to live together a little while back, unbeknownst to Christian and Gina, and Ryan is still madly in love with Tara.  Tara seems to still have some kind of fire burning for Ryan as well but Ryan is broke, and Tara ain't trying to go back to that.  Even if it means having to have sex with strangers every night.  Plus Christian is paranoid and a little psycho, meaning he has Tara followed all the time, all the more reason Tara has to be careful that she's not seen with Ryan.

Tara, unfortunately, was not nearly careful enough.  And where we thought Christian might be a little psycho, it looks like we might have to adjust that observance to Christian being completely, off his rocker, bats in the belfry psycho. Just ask his ex-girlfriend Cynthia (Tennile Houston), who apparently also used to kick it with Ryan.  For an area with a population around ten million, amazing how closely connected a few people can be.  Regardless, group sex will ensue.

Far be it for me to look into the mind of someone and judge what goes on inside that clump of grey matter, but I do think that many had unfairly passed judgment on 'The Canyons' even before it was released, if only because of who's in it, and maybe a little because of who wrote and directed it.  Paul Schrader probably hasn't made a recognized good movie since 'Affliction' back 1997, Bret Easton Ellis has gotten rich writing about vacuous, empty people that no one could possibly like, Lindsay Lohan seriously had to leave rehab to make it to this movies premier and I'm told that James Deen had to make an early exit from shooting 'Anal Buffet 8' to make it the premiere as well.  I don't even want to know what an anal buffet is and why we need eight of them.  So you can imagine where some, particularly those who might be just a tad bit full of themselves and self-righteous, might pre-judge this film.  I don't know for sure, since I'm on the inside looking in, but I don't think I'm one of those people, thus I believe I'm giving 'The Canyons' a fair shake.

Schrader opens his film, and litters throughout his film, images of shuttered movie theaters.  What does this mean?  Hell if I know, but I'll take a stab at it.  If one equates culture and a communal, connected society with the simple act of spending an evening with like minded strangers at the cinema, then this tells us that culture is dead.  Highlighted by this vacuous dinner between vacuous people where the principles are spending the majority of their time on their cell phones, further detached, even though they are mere inches from each other.  What's the point of this?  Hell if I know.

How does the death of the movie theater equate to a straight man engaging in homosexual behavior so that he can retain a low paid part in a horror movie that nobody will see?  Or a group sex power grab where the exploited becomes the exploiter?  Or why a man likes to watch his woman have sex with other men, as long as he's there to supervise?  Or why this same man might resort to murder for no particular reason that I can tell?  Hell if I know.  The correlation is lost on me.

What I can tell you is that 'The Canyons' is lurid and depraved and comes from a director who has some experience with this kind of cinema as Paul Schrader, many years ago, gave us 'American Gigilo' and 'Hardcore'.  It also contains performances which are… interesting.  Most of this came from James Deen who preened and strutted and emitted a sort of cool crazy confidence that did propel this movie forward.  I don't know if the kid is a good actor or not, but he's certainly comfortable in front of the camera.  The rest of the acting performances you can probably take or leave, Nolan Funk being overmatched and Ms. Lohan spending the majority of the movie quivering, giving us a character who was poorly written and directionless, so you never knew where she was coming from.  Lindsay does Mean Girl much better than she does quivering victim. 

'The Canyons' certainly isn't a good movie as it is fractured, meandering, inconsistent, suspectly acted and barely scripted, but it is magnetic and because of this we cannot completely write it off. 
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