Title: Road To Nowhere
Director: Monte Hellman
Starring: Shannyn Sossamon, Tygh Runyan, Dominique Swain, Waylon Payne, Cliff de Young, John Diehl
Monte Hellman’s first film in more than two decades, The Road To Nowhere, is, whatever else one says about it, first and foremost a work that wouldn’t exist were it not for other movies. A referential slice of film noir which enjoyed its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last year, recently screened as part of a retrospective of the director’s work at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, and now opens wider in Los Angeles and other markets throughout the summer, The Road To Nowhere takes grab-bag elements and splintered fractions of dramatic conflict — blackmail, a murder mystery, dubious identities, a woman in trouble — and flings them at the screen, excusing any rigidity of plotting by having certain characters involved in the making of a (same-named) movie, scenes of which are then interspersed throughout. The result is a jumbled, unengaging mess that counts on the awestruck quietness of an audience certain that the film’s makers are pursuing “art.”
The Road To Nowhere‘s plot is virtually impossible to sort out, spread out as it is over several different levels of reality. A young, anonymous actress, Laurel Graham (Shannyn Sossamon), is hired by a passionate young filmmaker, Mitch Haven (Tygh Runyan), to portray the mysterious Velma Duran. Some years ago, Duran disappeared along with her friend Rafe Taschen (Cliff de Young, portraying both Taschen and Cary Stewart, the actor hired to portray him) while running a trade business from Cuba. Was it murder? Suicide? A North Carolina blogger, Nathalie Post (Dominique Swain), has various theories, some of which capture Mitch’s attention. Meanwhile, an insurance investigator turned apparent film crew advisor/fringe-dweller, Bruno Brotherton (Waylon Payne), skulks about, and begins to suspect that perhaps Graham is in fact the real Velma Duran.
If that sounds interesting, I’ve perhaps overstated and simplified the movie’s two-hour-plus running time. It’s simpler and perhaps just as instructive to talk about what The Road To Nowhere lacks as much as what it has, given its putative areas of interest. The big, easy thematic touchstones in the script, by former Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos, are the three works of David Lynch, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, that make use of multiple and/or fractured identities, film production, and more generalized Hollywood deceit. Unfortunately, there’s nothing particularly compelling about any of these characters, and certain no woozy charm in its construction.
Is there a moodiness to cinematographer Josep Civit’s work that informs a larger, accumulating sense of tension? No. Are there moments of pin-prick terror or dark comedy? No. Are there breathtaking performances, alternately eerie, heartrending, erotically charged or flat-out unnerving? No. Is there at least a teasing, palpable sense of how all these events fit together, and a larger point or singular emotion? No. A mere sense of momentum, then, perhaps? No.
Hellman — who’s achieved a sort of industry-insider legendary status due in large part to Two-Lane Blacktop and discovering Quentin Tarantino, and producing his film debut — dutifully pulls the levers of Gaydos’ script, but there is no slickness, nor danger, nor joy. There is no “there” there. The Road To Nowhere is, sadly, aptly titled, because it is exists merely as a yawning collection of indulgent scenes.
Written by: Brent Simon