They say "write what you know," but there ought to be a moratorium on "dude" actors writing quirky road-trip vehicles for themselves. In Backseat, writer-star Josh Alexander plays an out-of-work New York actor who embarks on a quixotic quest to bump into Donald Sutherland in Montreal. (Why Donald Sutherland? Don't ask.) Alexander drags along his straitlaced friend Rob Bogue, hoping to help him get over his breakup with a shrill feminist sexpot, who dumped Bogue because he wouldn't pretend to rape her. As they motor north, Alexander and Bogue chatter inanely about women and Greek myths, and they bicker over what they're going to do with the large bag of cocaine that Alexander is carrying across the border as a favor to a friend. By the end, guns are pulled, plans are waylaid, feelings are hurt, and everyone learns some lessons about how to man up.
Backseat has a few assets. The upstate New York locations are appropriately low-rent, and because the cast is made up of professional actors instead of students and amateurs, the film has a better sense of rhythm to the performances than the average indie. But director Bruce Van Dusen makes distracting use of low-angle and handheld shots, while the script piles on the pointless weirdness. There's a character who only communicates via the Web, and another who's apparently pathologically incapable of ordering food in a restaurant. And when Alexander tells a story about his messed-up childhood, he caps it by saying that his mom wanted him to go to a shrink, "But she didn't know any, so she took me to see an optometrist." Ha!
Anyone who's spent a lot of time at independent-film festivals will feel a familiar sinking feeling within the first 10 minutes of Backseat. This isn't really a movie made for audiences; it's for casting agents and studio execs, to show off one man's acting chops and his skill at writing dialogue. But what it actually shows is that Alexander apparently has limited range. Everyone in Backseat seems like a combination of Alexander and all the
parts he's ever read for.