Something is clearly wrong between these two guys, because when “Scenic Route” opens, they’re in the middle of a massive fight, swinging a crutch, crushing hands and ending with a mohawked, bloody Josh Duhamel (“Transformers”) sitting in the desert looking wore down and lost. It’s compelling and shocking and really no spoiler.
But then what transpires has been done before. The road trip movie, with a grand, sweeping shot of a car driving down a deserted highway, in this case with an old truck, in the middle of a vast, empty and rocky desert. Two friends on the way to who knows where, for who knows what. Then, not surprisingly in the least bit, the truck breaks down. If it sounds like the start of a hundred horror movies, it is exactly that, except that “Scenic Route” isn’t really a horror movie. The tones are there but this is really a buddy movie that unfolds predictably as a survival tale meshed with a character study.
The two stars, Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler, are interesting choices for this film, and especially for a story like this. Usually showing up in big action numbers or wacky comedies, this harsh, desolate film certainly feels outside their normal wheelhouse. This is where the movie succeeds. When you have a buddy film where the near entirety of the movie is hefted on their two shoulders, it’s important for them to bear the weight.
Mitchell (Duhamel) is a frustrated, upper middle class American who is unsatisfied with his job, and may not be happy with how his life has turned out. And this is why is childhood friend Carter (Fogler) has talked him into a road trip. As it turns out he may not be the best person to take advice from, as Carter is living out of his truck nursing a failed writing career. He had decided that this trip would be the perfect time to reconnect. They do this while stuck in the middle of the desert, fighting to survive the harsh daytime heat, freezing nights, lack of water and their shitty attitudes.
Throughout the film we get some amazing performances from Duhamel, displaying the frustration of the situation and letting his character unfold in what feels like a very natural way. Fogler is clearly here for comic relief, and he’s good at it, coming off as a more polished, and subtle, version of characters he’s been known to play in the past. There’s a good mesh between the two, playing foils to each other, and they really do he best with what they’re given.
It’s what they’re given which is the largest problem with “Scenic Route.” Nothing here is wholly original and the execution is clunky at best. The scenes of near-rescue come with a predictability that every time the two wander from their car you expect disappointment to soon follow. The single flashback in the film feels out of place and brings the tension they’ve built to a halt. It’s a nice attempt at character development but throws off the momentum of the film.
The worst offense, however, is the ending. Not since “Shutter Island” have we had such a slap in the face explanation ending that so insults the audience it hurts. The filmmakers would have better served what they developed by leaving things vague.
“Two A******s Get Themselves Stuck In the Desert” is really what this film should be titled. It’s beautifully shot, has awesome performances from its two leads but just ultimately is marred by its inconsistent storytelling and brutally awful ending.