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Oppressively misanthropic and ineptly made, The Canyons serves as a sour footnote in Paul Schrader's career -- but it does feature some decent late-period work from Lindsay Lohan.
All Critics (91)
| Top Critics (30)
| Fresh (20)
| Rotten (71)
The Canyons deserves a look.
It believes it's taking risks it actually has no interest in taking, that it's seeing profundity in the showbiz shallows.
Ellis throws in lots of references to social media in a desperate bid for cultural currency, while Schrader intersperses the drama with pretentious shots of boarded-up movie theaters to suggest this is all a metaphor for the death of cinema.
"The Canyons" is one of those movies that makes you feel worse just for having watched it.
If the creation of self-important tedium were a competitive sport, "The Canyons" would take home the gold.
An inept, misanthropic melodrama written by novelist Bret Easton Ellis and funded mostly through a Kickstarter campaign.
It would be too easy to blame the leads for the film's flatness, but I'm not sure that better actors could have roused such listless dialogue.
On paper, the ingredients for an intriguing combo of life-art crossover, artistic schadenfreude and nihilist gloss. But lord, it's cheap and weak.
Two problems that plague too many films labelled as erotic thrillers cling to this work: It is neither erotic nor much of a thriller.
The Canyons rapidly evolves into a film hopelessly at odds with itself.
Bret Easton Ellis's screenplay is filled with the worst kind of tin-eared dialogue and situations that seldom rise above their soapish base instincts, and in the third act, he clearly just gives up and turns one of his characters into Patrick Bateman.
Very little animating emotion to explain why the film had to be made, why the story needed to be told.
Apart from Lohan, almost everyone else in the cast is just lame (Deen should stay in porn) and has to deliver some ridiculous exposition amid an atmosphere of cheap soft-porn - and nothing can justify the combined talents of Schrader and Ellis leading to this pointless bore.
Lindsay Lohan continues to flush her career down the toilet with the trashy, exploitation film The Canyons. Dealing with themes of sex, control, and obsession, the story follows a film producer and his girlfriend as they have sexual liaisons with others. Lohan stars opposite porn star James Deen, and they both give bland, uninteresting performances. And while stuff happens in the film, there's no real semblance of a plot. Despite its provocative nature, The Canyons is a mundane and pointless film.
I was reading Entertainment Weekly this past weekend when I came across a review for "The Canyons". They gave it a B+ and I had never heard of it. Sunday evening I was looking for something to watch, came across it and figured I'd give it a chance. It stars Lindsay Lohan as a yoga instructor who has a volatile/crazy sexual relationship with a producer played by James Deen. He becomes obsessed when he thinks she is cheating on him and things escalate from there. It's a thriller, that offers no thrills, well except to see Lohan naked through a lot of the movie. This is basically a notch above softcore porn's you see late night on Cinemax. Lot of nudity, some sex, and a whole lot of bad acting. It does have one of the weirdest sex scenes I've ever seen in a movie, as a foursome. Lohan probably is the best thing about the movie here. but even she does horrible. Deen has 2 facial expressions, bored and a smirkish pout. Plus, the way the movie ends is pretty stupid. They probably could have done some cooler stuff with the way Deen's character goes crazier and crazier, but they don't. It's an hour and a half that drags a lot, just feels too slow. I give it 2 stars for Lohan's two best assets, but other than that this is a complete skip. If EW gives this a B+ I'd really hate to see what their version of an A is.
Before Veronica Mars success on the high-profile crowd-sourced fundraising site Kickstarter, there was The Canyons. Written by novelist Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho, Less Than Zero) and directed by Oscar-nominee Paul Schrader (Affliction, Taxi Driver), it promised to be a more legit opportunity for fans to fund a real movie, something they could actually see on the big screen. The production successfully raised a budget of $150,000 with rewards like script coverage by Schrader, working out at the gym with Ellis and his physical trainer, and Robert DeNiro's moneyclip from Taxi Driver. The little production that could got even more press when tabloid darling Lindsay Lohan was cast as the female lead. The New York Times released a lengthy blow-by-blow in January of the tumultuous film shoot, mostly centered around Lohan and her antics. It was a fascinating read. The Canyons is a better behind-the-scenes news article than a competent sexy thriller. The best actor in the film is a prominent male porn star. Make of that what you will.
In the City of Angels, Christian (James Deen) is spinning a web of deceit. He regularly invites other men over to have sex with his girlfriend, Tara (Lohan). His assistant, Gina (Amanda Brooks), has a boyfriend, Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk), who wants to be an actor. She convinces Christian to offer him a small part. It just so happens that Ryan and Tara used to date back when they were struggling actors. They've also started a new affair. Christian suspects something is amiss and schemes to punish and destroy Ryan and his dreams of Hollywood fame. Meanwhile Ryan is trying to scheme himself to get Tara to finally leave the rich and luxurious clutches of Christian.
Woe to thee expecting a plot or characters worth watching. Despite the presence of artistic heavyweights like Ellis and Schrader, The Canyons is a movie that does a disservice to the word bland. This movie is powerfully bland. There's just nothing to attach to other than the fascination of Lohan. The characters are posh, privileged, unlikable, and morally slipshod, which is the Ellis specialty. Except in the past he's given them personalities to go along with their nihilistic narcissism. Christian is a pale likeness of Patrick Bateman and has no charisma or intriguing sense of darkness to him, something to keep you watching. Mostly he's just a jerk. But he's not even an interesting jerk. The plot is a merry-go-round of infidelity, as numerous characters have secret paramours, which makes their cumulative jealousy all the more absurd. What does Christian have to get so upset about? He invites men and women over to have sex with Tara. They even engage in a foursome. I suppose there is the limp argument that he's not in control, but how tedious is that? Ultimately, you're watching Bland Character A complain to Bland Character B about how unhappy Bland Character C makes them. This scenario repeats many times. I wish there was more gratuitous nudity to hold my attention. It's a soap opera that you want to turn off. The entire screenplay feels like weak, reheated Ellis depravity without anything memorable.
Here's an example of how lazy the screenwriting gets: after Christian is done having sex with Cynthia (Tenille Houston), a yoga teacher (that's one way of doing it), they relax. In this scene, Cynthia asks questions that have no real purpose other than to advance exposition, and it's sorely obvious. It's all, "What did she mean by that?" and, "Why would you go to this place?" Every screenplay has exposition but the trick is to make it as invisible as possible. Pacific Rim did a particularly great job at masking its exposition so that it arrived in a way that didn't feel like the plot was stalling. The fact that Ellis doesn't even put forth any effort to disguise what is naked and clunky exposition just speaks to an overall sense of lethargy or indifference on his part with the script. I wouldn't be surprised if Ellis knocked this out over one long, monotonous weekend.
The other mortal misstep is that Schrader makes the movie so serious that you'll find yourself laughing at spots. This is not great material to begin with, nor compelling characters, but it could have, emphasis on "could," worked had the production embraced its silly sense of luridness. There's a reason we're more forgiving of late-night thrillers with copious amounts of vice. They accept their identity. I think Schrader may have read Ellis' lackluster script and envisioned another Looking for Mr. Goodbar (I'm not confusing it with Schrader's own American Gigolo). This is not a morality tale but Schrader seems to think otherwise. I don't sense any cohesive commentary about young people and their sexual mores or the predominance of technology and its negative impact on human connection. Christian and Tara text at the dinner table. He films "movies" on his phone of their sexual trysts with strangers culled from Craigstlist. There's a big difference just including these items and actually having something to say. Schrader opens and closes the film with montages of rundown movie theaters, many shuttered up and long out of business. What am I supposed to decipher from this exactly? Tara asks Gina, who works in the movies, when was the last time she went and saw a movie, a film that honestly made her feel something. Gina is stumped, but that's all you get for that thematic reference. Is Schrader taking out his ire on the state of Hollywood filmmaking and the studio system? Regardless, you won't feel anything form The Canyons either.
So what truly is the draw here? Why would someone want to watch this movie? The only factor I can surmise, beyond simple curiosity, is the presence of Lohan. I doubt this movie would seem as compelling absent the troubled actress. Would people be clamoring to see this movie if it starred, say, Hilary Duff instead? She's been out of the limelight seemingly as long as Lohan but she's also had a stable personal life. I won't pretend I'm above this. I watched The Canyons out of sheer curiosity, and that inquisitiveness hinged upon Lohan. She hasn't starred in a theatrically released movie since 2007's I Know Who Killed Me (my #2 worst film of that year), and she's fresh off the infamous Lifetime movie of Elizabeth Taylor that many websites turned into a derisive drinking game. There's an undeniable rubbernecking quality here not to mention the prurient promise of Lohan taking off her clothes. To pacify the curious, Lohan has two scenes where she goes topless, one during the aforementioned foursome. If you're planning a hot night home alone with you an your VOD, good luck trying to make sense of that foursome. It's shot with all these blinky lasers bouncing off people's writhing bodies, losing just about whatever small sensuality the scene may have gained. I'd expect the scenes to land on the Internet in a matter of days, if not hours, so that salient selling point will be moot. Lohan's acting on the other hand is less deserving of attention. There are a few moments where it feels like character and actress have merged, and her crying jags about lost opportunities, dreams gone awry, feel inescapably real for her. I think she would have been better served with a less solemn tone and more sudsy and sundry thrills.
Deen has the best feel for Ellis' pulpy material, and while he doesn't really click as a menacing figure even as he's murdering people (he's too much a Jewish boy next door type), he does come across as a megalomaniacal creep. Perhaps my expectations were just too low for a porn actor, so my apologies for my prejudices. Given the right material, Deen may surprise (not by his full-frontal nude scene). I do think that Katie Morgan (Zack and Miri Make a Porno) has the ability to transcend porn. She's just so effortlessly charming, something that most of the actors in The Canyons have trouble with. Funk (House at the End of the Street) cannot get a good grip on his character's emotions and thus he just seems pissy all the time. I'll spare the other actors mentioning but I feel the need to inform that Osar-nominated director Gus Van Sant plays Christian's trust fund-mandated therapist. Guess what doesn't work well?
Those seeking an outrageous exploitation film filled with soapy sex and intrigue, as well as pretty people behaving very badly, will be surely disappointed with The Canyons. I guess it all depends on your expectation level for a film that bypassed the traditional financial system and crowd-sourced on the basis of Schrader and Ellis' notoriety. I'm glad that both artists found a conduit for collaboration and found a way to make it happen on the (relative) cheap. I just don't know why it had to be this crummy story. Thematically, Schrader and Ellis seem to be completely at odds, which results in a super serious movie about terrible, and terribly boring, characters doing little else but indulging in vices and whining (also a vice?). Without the presence of Lohan to add a curiosity factor, there is honestly no good reason to spend good money on this dithering project. The moderate success of The Canyons is somewhat comforting, but really, this wasn't a movie that deserved people's donations, and it certainly doesn't deserve your time.
Nate's Grade: D+
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