This review contains little spoilers, big spoilers and spoilers in between.
Despite a storm of denial that they stunt-cast their terrible pet-project, (oh goodness me no!) Brett Easton Ellis and Paul Schrader are betrayed by their utter lack of anything else to say. It’s as if they hoped the presence of a wash-up and a porn star would animate their piece of oh-so-self-aware garbage-that-knows-it’s-garbage. Alas, the audience will have the last laugh, because The Canyons doesn’t know exactly what kind of trash it is, nor why it needs to be trash.
The first time you regret your decision to purchase/download this film will likely come during the first scene’s line readings. James Deen’s version of Patrick Bateman is made toothless by his childish petulance. Either misdirected or undirected entirely, he frequently settles for delivering lines in the self-obsessed whine of a teenager, convincing himself that he is worldly while fooling no one else.
Deen’s Christian can be seen tapping away on his smartphone in a variety of positions (rudely at the dinner table, reclining on his designer couch) usually arranging kinky sexy-times for himself and his only slightly-less pathetic girlfriend, Tara, with whom he may or may not think that he is in love. Excessive use of smart phones, you see, has become a kind of shorthand for “out of touch with reality” or “superficial” or “unable to relate to people.”
Tara ‘s (Lohan’s) freckly and plastic cheeks are permanently tear-streaked, because she is sad. Sometimes the app-arranged sexy-times involve Tara and strangers. And you can sure bet these scandalous liaisons are used to manifest ennui, as well as issues of power and control between the principle characters: because empty sex on screen is new, scandalous, forbidden. Whatever Schrader and Ellis set out to manifest in The Canyons’ smattering of half-hearted sex-scenes, it’s never quite what you’d call character.
One always thinks of Reefer Madness when adults make films about young people (sort of) behaving naughtily. Unfortunately the depravity here is neither sufficiently pitch-black (American Psycho) nor sufficiently committed (even energetic would be nice) to tow the kind of satire Brett Easton Ellis was once not just capable of but adept at. In Ellis’s American Psycho (the novel or the film both work for reference, although Ellis didn’t really have a hand in the screenplay) you get the unnerving sense, on some level, that Bateman has really figured something out.
Evil, cunning and sadistic, yes, but Bateman’s also the best in the world at doing what he does: appearing a handsome, brand-savvy corporate player with money and power. He even likes the right (vapid) pop albums, and relishes them.
Deen relishes nothing. He’s just on autopilot as a sexy LA trust-funder. There’s nothing provocative about a superficial dude who lives in a big house in LA. I get that we’re not celebrating this, but you make your takedown kind of toothless when you just have the guy whine and scheme at us for a few hours.
The crazy thing about The Canyons: it’s so thoughtless even the filmmakers realize they have nothing to say about half way through. That’s why the brooding nonsense that they were hoping would pass for character study abruptly shifts gears into schlock thriller. Whoo-hoo we get to watch Deen bloodlessly kill an undeveloped side-lay with big boobs. He’s cra-a-a-zy! Come on guys.
Yes, but even when you think he’s given up the bizarre onslaught of (it has been much noted) banal dialogue in favor of fits of head-tilt-worthy action, Ellis persists with his own horrific version of a noir tell-back monologue. For those of you following along at home, this is where the detective in a noir film recounts what he has discovered is going on. He explains the mystery, usually to the villain. But, twist alert, in Ellis’s version the bad dude is explaining it to the good dude. And another twist! He’s… not actually telling us anything we could have possibly missed. He’s just telling the good dude, Ryan, that he sucks. This takes a really long time. At one point, summarizing the barely-there plot of a non-mystery film, Christian tries these zingers on for size:
“And then BAM. You reconnect with Tara last July. And then BAM, she convinces everyone to cast you in a movie you’re not even capable of acting in. And then BAM, you’re fucking my girlfriend, and BAM, you convince Cynthia to tell everyone some bullshit story? So what, huh?”
The Brett Easton Ellis we knew and loved is certainly dead.