What happens in Vegas changes a young man’s life in “Who’s Driving Doug,” a coming-of-age road trip drama starring RJ Mitte of “Breaking Bad.” As a wheelchair-bound college student who escapes his orderly life for a few days, Mitte is convincing. So too is Ray William Johnson, in his first feature role, as the charismatic “who” of the title — which is not a question but a description.
Their give and take propels the movie but not enough to keep it from feeling familiar beneath the surface twists. By turns earnest and profane, the story of three twentysomethings’ Sin City sortie contains flashes of wit — about disability in particular. But this road is lined with clichés and blunt dialogue, the emotional shifts all too neatly underlined by Death Cab for Cutie tracks.
Setting out from Los Angeles are theater major Doug (Mitte), who has muscular dystrophy and is more than ready to flee the watchful eye of his frantic mother (Daphne Zuniga); Stephanie (Paloma Kwiatkowski, underpowered), the object of his unrequited affection; and his new driver, Scott (Johnson), a Las Vegas native whose broody need to see someone back home spurs the trip. The details of the irreverent-but-kind Scott’s emergency are revealed in the final stretches, which aim for poignancy but screech into flat-footed melodrama.
Screenwriter Michael Carnick and director David Michael Conley, making their feature debuts, withhold information in a way that’s more contrivance than dramatic engine. Though it’s not enough to hit the jackpot, Conley hits his stride in the dynamic casino sequences. There, Scott helps Doug play the tables, and if only for a moment, the gamble pays off.
‘Who’s Driving Doug’
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: Vintage Los Feliz 3, Los Angeles. Also on VOD
For the Record
Feb. 26, 10:15 a.m.: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated that the movie is playing at the Arena Cinema in Hollywood.