Digital projection has made it easier than ever to get no-budget movies onto theater screens. That might sound wonderfully egalitarian, but it mostly just leads to more shoulda-gone-straight-to-DVD clunkers like Scenic Route. The feature debut of sibling directors Kevin and Michael Goetz, Scenic Route stars Josh Duhamel (Transformers, Safe Haven) and Dan Fogler (Take Me Home Tonight) as two friends stranded in the desert after their car breaks down. The handsome one, Duhamel, is a failed musician, whereas the pudgy one, Fogler, is a failed writer. The central conflict is that Fogler is angry with Duhamel for giving up on his dreams—for getting married and getting a 9-to-5 job, while Fogler himself just keeps raging against the dying of the light. As it turns out, Fogler has faked the breakdown so he can stage some sort of intervention with Duhamel. But then the car actually does break down, leaving them to hash out their tepid issues endlessly.
Is there a worse cinematic punishment than a two-hander featuring dull, unsympathetic twits bickering for an hour and a half? Other films at least offer the relief of a fresh face or a change of setting every couple of scenes. The movie might’ve been tolerable if writer Kyle Killen (The Beaver) had anything interesting to say about friendship or aging or success, or if the Goetz brothers demonstrated even a shred of style, or if Duhamel and Fogler were resourceful enough performers to get by with their bland encounter-therapy dialogue. Perhaps sensing these many shortcomings, the filmmakers attempt to fool viewers into thinking something interesting is going to occur by leading off with an alarming flash-forward: Duhamel covered in blood and sporting a Mohawk, looking like an extra from The Hills Have Eyes. As per usual with movies like this, what transpires isn’t nearly as interesting and/or shocking as the film would have its audience expect.
There are, to be sure, plenty of big-budget movies as uninspired as this, but those films usually contain the consolation of basic Hollywood craftsmanship: nice lighting, good clothes, elaborate camera movements. Scenic Route has none of those things; the 86 minutes spent watching it might as well be spent watching a dirt smear on a wall. At one point, Fogler bemoans how he’d been taught to follow his dreams, to never give up trying to be a writer, even when all the evidence suggests he was never cut out for it. Based on the evidence here, the Goetz brothers might want to heed those words and try some other line of work while they still can.