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From the initial Kickstarter campaign launched by scribe Bret Easton Ellis and director Paul Schrader to the bizarre, somewhat sad, incredibly well-written profile of the film's troubles in New York Times Magazine, I've been compelled by what "The Canyons" might turn out to be off and on for the past year. Could the long-maligned Schrader, who once upon a time wrote "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull," score an unlikely directing comeback? Could teen mom special friend James Deen make the transition from porn star to legitimate actor?
And, of course, could Lindsay Lohan, a still young and somewhat talented actress, possibly salvage her career?
Since SXSW and Sundance rejected the movie, I knew "The Canyons" probably wasn't destined for the Criterion Collection, but I was open to the possibilities that the movie might be trashy fun, a Hindenberg-esque disaster or perhaps even a decent film. I wasn't setting out to trash it, but as you'll read, I was truly left with very little choice.
"The Canyons" ended up being bad in about 17 different ways. Really, truly bad. And not really in any interesting or redeeming way. But more about that later. Let's hit the start button, shall we?
1 minute in: Movie opens with stills of abandoned and decaying movie theaters. Are we in for some musings on the vapid emptiness of L.A. and celebrity culture? The smart money is on yes, and Vegas is adjusting its lines accordingly.
2 minutes: Lindsay Lohan is listed as Co-Producer. What exactly does a Co-Producer do, you ask? "Co-Producers are two or more functioning producers who perform jointly or cumulatively all of the producer functions as a team or group." Thanks for clarifying that, producersguild.org.
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4 minutes: Lilo (Tara) and Deen (Christian) are a young couple. (Aw.) They're at dinner, sitting across from another young couple (henceforth known as Generic Hollywood Male (GHM) and Generic Hollywood Female (GHF)), talking cryptically about a movie that they're all involved in but don't seem to find particularly interesting. Deen is the producer, and also an a**hole. GHF, pleasant and nonthreatening, is Deen's former assistant. GHM is a pretty boy/nice guy, and the star of the fake movie. Lilo is kind of glamorous, I guess. They're one comic relief character/paternal figure away from starting a boy band.
5 minutes: Not to get all negative Nancy right off the bat, but it's already becoming clear that James Deen, handsome and well-endowed as he may be, isn't much of an actor. In fact, every one of his lines is delivered with the same clunky "THIS IS WHAT ACTING LOOKS LIKE" melodrama of Sofia Coppola in "The GodfatherPart III" or, say, a porn actor. Which I guess you can't really blame the guy for.
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6 minutes: Deen and Lilo are both fiddling with their phones while barely paying attention to the people right in front of them. Hey USC and NYU film students, this is called "cultural criticism." I hope you're taking notes.
7 minutes: Deen eventually shows off pictures of himself in his Underoos and begins a nonchalant discussion about his affinity for filming sex acts. Kids and their table manners these days.
10 minutes: "Nobody has a private life anymore" — Lindsay Lohan, er, Tara. If "The Canyons" were a freshman composition paper, I'm pretty sure this would be the thesis statement.
11 minutes: So far, we have all the awkward tension, vaguely exotic L.A. sets and pulsating music of a porno without the sex — not totally unlike watching a soccer game that feels like it's destined to end in a 0-0 tie.
12 minutes: A male stranger who looks just skinny and alternative enough to front an emo band enters Lilo and Deen's house. They're either going to have sex with him or murder him. Maybe both. Considering the setup and the players involved, I can't imagine this scene is going to end with "My Dinner With Andre"-like musings on experimental theatre and humanism.
13 minutes: To my surprise, the three of them have now all sat down to a game of trivial pursuit while discussing the merits of Keynes' "The General Theory of Employment." Kidding. Sex. They're having sex, and skinny Pete Wentz is watching. They're videotaping it, too, which I think is going to be a recurring theme here. Something about our culture of voyeurism, etc., etc.
18 minutes: Lilo meets up with GHM. We find out they have a history together and have secretly been seeing each other on the side. What a tangled web they weave.
19 minutes: "I'm still so in love with you. I don't want to be but I am" — GHM to Lilo without a hint of irony. The rest of their conversation is exposition that isn't worth expanding on here. So far we have all the gossipy intrigue of "One Life to Live" but, y'know, with more orgy talk and male full frontal.
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20 minutes: Thus far, Lilo's acting isn't noticeably bad. Amidst a desert of terrible, she's a refreshing oasis of totally passable.
22 minutes: I've been trying to figure out who James Deen looks like for the last twenty minutes and it just registered: a young, more filled-out Anthony Weiner. No. Seriously. Check it out. There's a way too-easy joke here somewhere. I'll let you guys go ahead and be creative.
22 minutes: James Deen is now at an aspiring actress' house, henceforth referred to as GHF2. She is blonde and attractive in a way that is yawn-inducing, which I guess is the point, maybe. I'm 98% sure they're going to have sex.
23 minutes: They do.
26 minutes: Lilo is now getting lunch with GHF. She tells her, "I'm really sorry I didn't congratulate you on starting your own PR company." Because that's the way people talk. Y'know, the same way you say "I can't wait to go rollerblading at Dave's Rollerama Skating Center" instead of "I can't wait to go rollerblading."
27 minutes: "Good guys are really hard to come by these days" — another thing that was just said. Bret Easton Ellis is a talented writer. I'm not exactly sure what he had in mind here. Are we supposed to find the way these characters talk astonishingly boring? If so, mission accomplished.
29 minutes: Scene opens with a shot of a GHM's junk in a banana hammock and pans up. Can't say I wouldn't be impressed if every shot from here on out started this way.
30 minutes: The intermittent industrial '80s soundtrack constantly makes it feel like Ryan Gosling is about to arrive and stomp everyone's face in. It would be a noted improvement.
36 minutes: James Deen walks into a building and stares down every woman in sight. He then storms into an office and tells the secretary "No girls allowed." In case it wasn't yet clear enough that his character is an oversexed ne'er-do-well.
39 minutes: Deen tells a Michael Stipe-looking fellow — apparently a co-producer — that he will pull his funding on the movie that no one cares about or is interested in unless Stipe forces GHM to commit a sex act on him to keep his starring role. He may be on to GHM and Lilo's off-screen shenanigans. Stipe reluctantly agrees. Some real Shakespeare s**t. Methinks a cupid Deen shall play.
43 minutes: Camera lingers on our anticharismatic antihero as he climbs a ludicrously large staircase. Is this symbolic? Could it be that life is, in fact, the staircase?
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46 minutes: "This movie sucks. Nothing's happening" — My friend, after walking in and watching the last five minutes. Not quite the eloquence of Pauline Kael, but he isn't wrong.
49 minutes: GHM is confronted by Stipe, realizes he's being messed with by Deen, and calls Stipe's bluff. It's unclear whether he goes through with the act, but I'd like to think he does, while "Everybody Hurts" plays in the background.
50 minutes: More abandoned movie houses. So vapid. So lifeless.
51 minutes: Lindsay Lohan receives a text through her TV from an anonymous someone asking her to meet up. Neat-o, the future really is now. Can regular people do that, or only spoiled, despicable Los Angelistas?
54 minutes: Deen is having Lilo followed to her destination by a fellow wearing a hat and a hood. Have to imagine shorts and a T-shirt would have been more conspicuous.
56 minutes: Turns out mystery text was from GHF2. This is an exchange we get to sit through:
"Hey so do you remember me?"
"No I don't."
"I used to date Christian before he met you."
Keep in mind, this isn't even especially bad, but representative of the dialogue as a whole thus far.
58 minutes: GHF2 claims Deen is more of a creepy sexual deviant than we already understood him to be and Lilo needs to get out now.
1 hour: Deen is now going full Bond villain on GHM and Lilo. "We are now hacking into Ryan's Facebook page so you don't have to be friends with him to look at him" — Deen's techie henchman, narrating his every move to the audience, the way you do.
1 hour 2 minutes: Brainstorming alternate titles. S**tty L.A. Dangerous Liaisons" or "S**tty L.A. Cruel Intentions" are at the top of the list so far. Feel free to add your own.
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1 hour 3 minutes: Lilo confronts Deen about her conversation with GHF2. He denies any wrongdoing, and claims he has a few adult friends coming over to engage in the activities that adult friends do, from time to time. I'm pretty sure this is orgy scene we've heard so much about.
1 hour 5 minutes: Three very naked people are headed upstairs. I'm setting my watch at orgy o'clock.
1 hour 7 minutes: Ready, set, orgy! If you were hoping this might be sexy, prepare to be thoroughly disappointed. Unless you're turned on by shapeshifting clumps of human sadness. I won't spoil it for you, but things get real awkward in a hurry, as I imagine most orgies do.
1 hour 8 minutes: In conclusion ...
"I need to get out of L.A."
"Yeah, it's a pretty f**ked-up town, isn't it."
I've always wondered whether Hollywood's obsession with itself was self-loathing, self-deprecating or just good old self-infatuation. But as "The Canyons" goes on, I'm starting to care less and less.
1 hour 13 minutes: OMG Deen totally knows about Lilo and GHM. And he's not a happy pappy.
1 hour 17 minutes: Deen is talking with his therapist, who's also Gus Van Sant. It's nice to know that in-between making art movies, Van Sant volunteers his time to counsel young and despicable Hollywood types. We learn Deen has daddy issues. He's the only character with any sort of arc thus far.
1 hour 20 minutes: Deen, leaving GHM a threatening email, mocking GHM's commercial acting career: "I saw one on YouTube for Pringles, you looked like a f**king moron." Hey, let's leave delicious, neatly packaged potato chip products out of this.
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1 hour 22 minutes: "It's amazing how small this town really is."
1 hour 24 minutes: Oh no. Deen is at GHF2's house. He's putting gloves on and I don't think he has gardening work or plumbing built into his busy schedule of taping sex acts and producing s**t movies. I've seen enough movies to know she's probably going to die. Run, attractive, completely uninteresting person I've developed absolutely no emotional attachment to!
1 hour 26 minutes: He kills her. He also kills GHF to get to GHM. None of these developments have been especially compelling or surprising, but mercifully at least something is happening.
1 hour 39 minutes: Lilo leaves Deen, who agrees to give him an alibi in exchange for GHM's life. GHM is left alive, and begins stalking Lilo. The more things change, the more they stay the same. More abandoned movie theaters close us out.
In conclusion, you should consider it a small act of heroism that I sat through this movie twice so you didn't have to.