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By Brad Slager | May 18, 2003

Evidence that not everything lately put out by Miramax Films has been Oscar fodder is this long hidden title that is just now making it into stores. This studio has developed a reputation for knowing the right way to market and release their movies but “Waking Up in Reno” developed into a problem that could not be solved. Once slated for a 1,000-screen rollout it stewed on the shelf for some time before it was eventually slipped into select cities and then cast into DVD pastureland. While collecting dust the marketers decided to rework things, like changing the title from the original “Wakin’…” to “Waking…”, but then they quit, accurately assuming that this wreck would need more than correct gerund assignation to rectify the troubles.
“Waking Up In Reno” is about two couples from Arkansas as they strike out for a road-trip to Reno, Nevada, and that premise alone should give you an indication to the mess they made of things. We see on display the usual treatment of Southerners by Hollywood as nothing more than hicks with lifestyles we can make fun of repeatedly. I am beginning to think that Hollywood actually regards The South as a foreign country, like Canada–well, the French part of Canada, anyway. Our quartets of travelers act socially naïve, speak fluent cornpone, and revel in aspects of popular culture that people in coffee house poetry readings declare as the end of civilization.
“Reno” stars Southerner Billy-Bob Thorton, who dreamt up this “White Trash Road Show” and asked two writers he worked with on the TV show “Evening Shade” to craft the script. Billy-Bob plays a smarmy and smug egotist, (in other words, himself) named Lonnie-Earl, a car salesman who is frugal and emotionally arrested and will not let his wife Darlene, (Natasha Richardson) buy wine coolers. He is also having an affair with Candy, (Charlie Theron) who is married to Roy, (Patrick Swayze). This can be dicey given that Roy and Candy are the couple joining Lonnie-Earl and Darlene on vacation.
Darlene starts things off with a narration where she states, “Relationships can be like a loaf of bread”, and then extends the epicurean philosophy by declaring, “Life ain’t no easy Easy Bake oven.” This is such an obvious declaration that it does not bear mentioning, as everyone clearly knows this already. Most people would agree that life is actually like an Amana radar range, or possibly a Kitchen Aid convention broiler, and some may even suggest it resembles a Webber Char-King propane grill with a counter-swing rack for roasting vegetables, and I have yet to prove them wrong. (I have also encountered some misguided souls who declare life is more like a Magic Chef toaster-oven, but clearly; they had revealed themselves as someone not to be listened to.)
Lonnie-Earl plucks a new SUV off the lot and they load up with their luggage and cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, because that is all that people drink in the South. The more we learn about this quartet of voyagers the less apparent it becomes why there was a movie made about them. The whole affair feels like you are forced to suffer watching a vacation video by the guy at work whom you do not even like talking to you.
There is a detour to an Amarillo restaurant where Lonnie-Earl wants to eat a 72 ounce steak, and director Jordan Brady films this in a morbid fashion that almost had an avowed prime-rib carnivore like myself seeking out soy-burgers—almost. One night the four have to share a bed and this is a fine moment for a flatulence gag. Another evening these clever gals decide to sneak into the pool of the net-door hotel, so they tiptoe and whisper only to then holler as they do cannonballs. Worst of all we have to suffer the trials of Candy and Roy as they try their hand at procreation. Whenever she reaches optimum ovulation temperature Lonnie-Earl has to pull over so they can test the rocker springs on the Ford Bronco in broad daylight. Once they are back under way the gentlemen are riding in front and ask Candy, whose feet are draped over the headrest, if she can pass them two beers from the back without spilling any of Roy’s “tadpoles”. Hope that Corinthian leather has Scotch-Guarding.
Things don’t improve once they make Reno. Candy has her heart set on renewing her vows with Roy by way of a “Wizard of Oz” theme weddin’, and Darlene is looking forward to fulfilling her dream of seeing Reno’s answer to Wayne Newton, Tony Orlando, (sans Dawn). But a soap opera snag befalls our wanderers when the good news of Candy’s impregnation coincides with Roy taking a call from his doctor informing him that he has no “swimmers”. Well Candy and Lonnie-Earl are not savvy enough to keep a lid on things and soon enough their spouses discover the truth of their liaisons over dinner. We are treated to a fair share of door-slammin’ hair-pullin’ melodrama, the kind you may get from your boisterous neighbors, except that you paid the right to hear this caterwauling. Even Darlene makes the connection that their plight mimics a Jerry Springer panel.
The baffling aspect to all of this is how four rather talented actors get their skills wasted on tripe of this nature—even Patrick Bohdi-Dalton-Castle Swayze surprises by doing a good job here, but his character is just plain-old-dumb unlikable. It has to be indicative of the poor material to say that all four stars get out acted by Truckasaurus at the stadium rally. Hell, the most enjoyable parts of this film were the computer animated AAA “Trip-Tick” segues between stops.
It may be a testament to the draw of Billy-Bob Thornton that he was able to successfully pitch this film–Miramax must have felt they were going to get a countrified version of “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice”. Instead they get a road trip picture with natives of Bill Clinton’s Arkansas, and we get to watch as they have sex at truck stops and guzzle Pabst en route to Reno to bicker loudly and act uncivilized before they watch their truck destroyed at a monster truck rally.
No wonder the French hate us.

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