In the opening moments of Road To Paloma, star Jason Momoa inhabits a magic-hour landscape that looks like a cross between a desolate past and a post-apocalyptic future. Robert Wolf (Momoa) is first shown alone in a field, doing menial labor; eventually, he reports back to his nominal supervisor at a junky-looking garage. The movie slowly reveals that Wolf is a Mojave outlaw fleeing arrest after an act of vengeance, picking up odd jobs as he makes his way west.
One-time Conan The Barbarian and Game Of Thrones alum Momoa directed and co-wrote the film, which grows in novel directions from its thriller roots. Rather than following Wolf as he stalks his prey, the entire movie takes place after the act of revenge, proceeding with a pleasingly unhurried pace. Wolf semi-inexplicably picks up a sidekick called Cash (Robert Mollohan), a drifter who first seems like a degenerate but ultimately (and, again, semi-inexplicably) proves his loyalty. The most likely reason for their bond falls outside of the movie’s frame: Mollohan co-wrote the screenplay with Momoa. If the two of them don’t both love motorcycles, they fake it well; Road To Paloma features perhaps the most motorcycle-riding footage of any actor-directed vanity project since The Brown Bunny.
The frequent bike-riding shots, often accompanied by stomping Western-blues songs on the soundtrack, are preferable to much of the dialogue, which makes some tedious feints toward assessing the price of revenge before concluding that Wolf is basically in the right. This lack of ambiguity is emphasized by a series of deeply stupid scenes involving the federal officers on his trail—lawman who, of course, paid no such attention to the crime that inspired Wolf’s violent reaction. The movie seems to think it’s making an incisive point about a marginalized population, but any cultural specificity is shoved aside whenever Momoa cuts to the glowering-fed heavies, which is far too often.
Before the plot butts in, Road To Paloma works reasonably well as a moody travelogue that keeps finding new ways to show off its dingy bona fides. Momoa and/or Mollohan toss actual rocks into basketball hoops, talk about their bikes, and throw up, all in the same scene. Later, Wolf shares a romantic knife-shave with a love interest played by Momoa’s real-life wife, Lisa Bonet. But while the movie keeps revenge off screen, it still abides by the revenge thriller’s sense of inevitability. By its final stretch, not even the always-welcome addition of character actor Michael Raymond-James (semi-reprising his Terriers role of honorable miscreant’s best buddy) can rescue Momoa’s film from a poor attempt at operatic intensity. Instead of following its more lyrical tendencies to explore Wolf’s Mojave roots, Road To Paloma melodramatically places its characters in a state of perpetually romanticized near-doom.