"Scenic Route" begins with the promise of bone-crunching violence. Before a single image appears, we hear thuds, moans, fists against flesh. Two men finally emerge, their faces smeared with blood. First-time feature directors Kevin and Michael Goetz then show how two lifelong friends, preppy Mitchell (Josh Duhamel) and schlubby Carter (Dan Fogler), became stranded by the loneliest road in the American Southwest and broke each other's noses.
Tempers initially flare when Carter, an unemployed writer, tries to convince his pal that his finance job and suburban house have led him astray. Though they're in every scene of the agoraphobic chamber drama, Mitchell and Carter never extend beyond the archetypes of Unhappy Family Man and Bitter Failed Artist. Nor do Duhamel and Fogler's inconsistent performances breathe life into their flat characters.
Carter's planned "awakening" devolves into an exchange of personal insults, then a battle of knuckles versus teeth. (Bet on the guy who takes after Travis Bickle to win.) But the catharsis, which arrives halfway through the film, leads to a coma.
While the narrative spins in place, Kyle Killen's script throws out one uninspired gambit after another to extend the film to feature length, eventually climaxing with dual endings, both contrived. Mitchell and Carter pontificate that growing up means compromise, but the film's indecisive conclusion unwittingly demonstrates why choices are often necessary.
MPAA rating: R for language, some violence and a scene of sexuality
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minute
Playing: TCL Chinese 6 Theatres, Hollywood