Detour (Movie Review)

Detour (Movie Review)
7 10

PLOT: After drunkenly joking around in a bar one day, teenaged Harper (Tye Sheridan) is coerced by a criminal demanding $20,000 to drive to Las Vegas to fulfill the kid’s wish: killing his philandering stepfather.

REVIEW: The last six years have indeed proved a fork in the road for English writer/director Christopher Smith. Between 2004 and 2010, the guy turned in four disparately framed but effectively harrowing horror outings in CREEP, SEVERANCE, TRIANGLE and BLACK DEATH, only to alter his genre-steered course during the following six years in favor of a couple of TV episodes and the misguided holiday comedy GET SANTA. It’s damn good to have the man back in his preferred lane of independence, as his new knottily dichotomous road-thriller DETOUR is not only a welcomed return to form, the form itself has been freshly refashioned to tell a compelling story of ultra-violent, unpredictable consequence. With a cunningly conceived screenplay, convincing performances by its three main principals and a coyly ambiguous editing style, DETOUR is most certainly a slick, charged-up, tricked-out cinematic path worth sightseeing when it enters select theaters Friday, January 20th. Take it!

Harper (Sheridan) is a bit of an emotional wreck. As if being a teenaged law student wasn’t psychologically vexing enough, the kid has to deal with his mother, as a result of a near fatal car accident, lying moribund in a coma. Her days are thinly numbered. Worse yet, Harper blames his suspiciously carousing stepfather Vincent (Stephen Moyer) for the accident, believing he opportunistically planned the crash in order to cash in on the mom’s insurance money. That’s a hell of an accusation to levy. And even bolder to share it! Yet that’s precisely what Harper does in a seedy whiskey bar one night. A few shots to loosen the lips, and soon Harper confides in Johnny Ray (Emery Cohen), a brash alpha-criminal with tats and piercings festooning his facade. Harper explains his situation and mentions, in jest, that he’d like to get rid of Vincent for good. Johnny agrees to do the job for a cool $20,000. Drunk with liquid courage, Harper halfheartedly agrees. Since Vincent is set to travel to Vegas for a so-called business meeting, Harper insists his stepfather be caught in his philandering ways. Johnny suggests killing and burying the sucker out in the desert.

Here’s where the movie veers in two opposite but equally entertaining vectors. We’re soon presented what comes across as a pair of dueling “what-if” fantasy scenarios. On one course, a hung-over Harper threatened on his own doorstep by Johnny before being coerced to hop in his hotrod en route to Vegas in order to carry on the hit on Vincent. Harper recoils, says the plan was nothing more than a drunken mistake. Unamused, Johnny more or less forces Harper into the car before peeling out and burning down the highway. Harper is now a kidnap victim as well as a potential murder accomplice, which makes for a fascinating character dynamic. Along for the ride is Johnny’s sexy blonde gal-pal Cherry (Bel Powley), who, as the road-trip progresses, offers more and more emotional solace to Harper. He needs it, as the bad news about his mother’s recovery, or lack there of, continues to pour in. Neon Vegas lights and dusty desert roads punctuate the forward thrust of a criminal road movie hurling toward a rollicking revelation.

The alternate avenue we travel mostly takes place inside Harper’s home, as his twisted desire to kill his lecherous stepfather plays out in projected reality. Accusing Vincent of chronic infidelity, failing to visit his coma-bound mother and forging her insurance documents to ensure his own personal enrichment - even proving the latter with photo and video footage - things get physical between the two. A large knife is pulled and one of them ends up lethally gouged. But it really isn’t what happens as much as it is the way it’s presented that proves so jarring. The editing style crosscuts between the two competing narratives, doing so in a way that, for a long stretch, is hard to delineate as either a dreamscape, a fevered reverie, a flashback, flash-forward, etc. It isn’t until the two storylines seamlessly collide in the final third that we’re blissfully blindsided by the stark realization of what’s really happening. And when we do, it’s pretty flooring. Not to betray too much here, but the reason such a duplicitous design of the framing device holds up so invisibly well must be correlated with the gamely deceptive performance of Tye Sheridan. Sans his consistently buyable turn as a nervous, grievous, unassuming and overmatched victim, the plot would like be far more transparent.

As it is, DETOUR is more concerned with the way it conveys its plot turns than it is with the dirty details of the story itself. It’s hard to explain without giving away too much, but speaking personally, there was never a hint, tell or tipped hand as to what the true nature of the narrative was while watching. I certainly questioned where Harper was physically while apparently ruminating about his two various options, or avenues if you will, but I never quite took the next logical step to connect the dots. Perhaps you’ll be more discerning. If so, you might not enjoy the sights and sounds DETOUR provides. However, if you’re down with slick, serpentine road thrillers that do a good job of keeping the twists and turns invisible…or if you happen to be a fan of the four solid flicks Chris Smith made prior…then most definitely give DETOUR a ride. It may take a little longer to get to the desired destination, but damn is the journey worth the sights and sounds along the way.

Extra Tidbit: DETOUR opens in limited theaters Friday, January 20th.
Source: AITH



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