Review: ‘The Canyons’ lives down to expectations

If the creation of self-important tedium were a competitive sport, “The Canyons” would take home the gold. This film so corners the market on lethargy and pretension the judges might not even bother handing out a silver or even a bronze.

Directed by Paul Schrader and written by Bret Easton Ellis, “The Canyons” has gotten a lot of mileage out of what the director has called “discard casting — using people that other people won’t hire.”

In this case, the “discards” in question are Lindsay Lohan, whose personal trials have become public spectacle, and James Deen, who’s reportedly made so many thousands of porn films that there doesn’t appear to be an exact count available.


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Though the filmmakers insist they are shocked — shocked! — by the amount of leering media attention this team of rivals has gotten, the only people likely to be aroused by “The Canyons” are readers of shelter magazines enamored of its elegant interiors.

For one thing, although there is some nudity in the film — topless for women, full frontal for men is the undressed code — the sexual encounters themselves are more soft-core Radley Metzger than San Fernando Valley hard stuff.

While “The Canyons’” acting is nothing to write home about, that’s not really the major difficulty here. Deen’s work is all suspicion all the time, but that’s what the script calls for. As for Lohan, whose career makes you weep when you think about how natural she was way back when in “The Parent Trap,” she tries hard but she is out of shape where convincing acting is concerned.

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“The Canyons” is also one of those films that insists — news flash — that people in Los Angeles in general, and on the fringes of the movie business in particular, are hollow, amoral individuals who lead empty, insincere lives. Who knew?

The problem is not only that this is a trite premise but also that Schrader, whose output over the years has frequently confused boredom with alienation, has put together a “Lickerish Quartet” (to steal one of Metzger’s titles) devoid of interest or enthusiasm.

We meet the four main characters at a singularly uncomfortable dinner. Christian (Deen) is a wealthy trust-funder (“his grandparents owned half of Thousand Oaks” we’re helpfully told) who dabbles in financing films but whose main interest seems to be trolling the Internet to find participants to join himself and girlfriend Tara (Lohan) in multi-party sex.

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Christian’s latest film, apparently a slasher movie to be shot in New Mexico, is the brainchild of his assistant Gina (Amanda Brooks). She’s happy because the film is going to star her boyfriend Ryan (Nolan Funk), a hunky aspiring actor who has been waiting for his big break for years.

Noticeably unhappy is Tara, who pushed Christian to cast Ryan and then mysteriously seemed to lose interest in the whole project.

That puzzle is soon solved when it is revealed that Tara and Ryan are old flames who have recently rekindled their passion, such as it is. Tara wants to break it off, but Ryan, who has a weakness for 1950s dialogue of the “I think about you all the time” variety, is reluctant to stop.

Christian, for his part, may be into kinky relationships — he may even be having regular so-L.A. sex with yoga instructor Cynthia (Tenille Houston) — but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t get jealous when he starts to suspect that Tara and Ryan are an item. Does he ever.

With this as the inciting element, all of the “Canyons” participants launch into a frenzy of ill-judged behavior. Lying, spying, cheating, indulging in nasty mind games and even psychotic behavior (this is Bret Easton Ellis territory, remember) are all in a day’s work for these benighted individuals.

The key problem with “The Canyons” is that it has been conceived, in a way both Schrader and Ellis have experience with, as intentionally distant and lifeless. It’s as though the absence of convincing emotion is a sought-after virtue, as if genuine feelings are too yesterday to interest serious artistes. “The Canyons” is a bad accident everyone saw coming, and now it is here.

‘The Canyons’

No MPAA rating

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Playing: Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood