Lewis & Clark & George

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Rod McCall

REVIEWED: 02-16-98

This seems to be a movie that all directors feel compelled to make at some point in their careers. You know, the one with horny, treacherous young outlaws barreling through the desert Southwest in dusty vintage cars, waving pistols around like Yosemite Sam and raving about their dreams of "headin' down to Mexico and livin' like kings." Adman-turned-filmmaker Rod McCall gets it over with in his second feature, a darkly comic Treasure of the Sierra Madre homage that boasts the usual inventory of dimwitted psychos in jeans and white T-shirts, endearing redneck eccentrics, and - needless to say - a wily femme fatale who plays her male accomplices for fools. With the help of his gifted director of photography Michael Mayers (Spanking the Monkey) and Austin-based production designer John Huke, McCall at least gives his picture a fresh, vibrant appearance, full of rich primary hues that achieve his stated aim of evoking old Warner Bros. Roadrunner cartoons. The cartoonish feel carries through to the broad acting that strives consciously for laughs other movies of this general ilk (Kiefer Sutherland's wretched Truth or Consequences, N.M., for example) too often get by accident. Although the comic dialogue is of a generally low wattage, the most obvious problem being that few of the characters are smart enough to muster any real wit, there's plenty of energy and personality on display. You get the feeling these talented young actors, including Gunther (Denise Calls Up) and Xuereb (Doom Generation) as the male fugitives and the delectable McGowan (Scream) as the mute grifter who joins them in mid-flight, are laying it all on the line for us. Their zeal is infectious. Reaching even farther for praise, James Brolin and Paul Bartel turn in nifty cameos and the double-twist ending adds a direly needed element of surprise. But after the last bug-eyed Mexican standoff scene is done and the bullet-raked corpses are reddening the desert sand, you've seen precious little that you haven't already run across in some combination of Love and a .45, Cadillac Ranch, Truth or Consequences, N.M. or a gazillion other films within this broad genus. So why does anyone bother to keep making and seeing these brazenly plagiaristic movies? My theory is that, at some point during the sentimental education of every American hipster, the Cool Trash aesthetic is hardwired into the brain. By incorporating so many of this aesthetic's classical reference points (convertibles, white trash fashion, gun fetishism, desert-dwelling riffraff, flight to Mexico, etc., etc.) the desperate-kids-on-the-lam movie practically dares you not to like it, on penalty of uncoolness. Sorry Rod, I'm afraid I'll have to take you up on that one.

2.0 stars

--Russell Smith

Film Vault Suggested Links
The Hi-Lo Country
Some Came Running
The Ploughman's Lunch

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