The latest in the proud American tradition of road trip movies, Detour sees Tye Sheridan’s despondent Californian teen Harper bullied into a misguided mission to Las Vegas by the nefarious Johnny (Emory Cohen) and his wide-eyed accomplice Cherry (Bel Powley). Harper suspects his stepfather (Stephan Moyer) has had a hand in the accident that’s left his mother in a coma, and in a drunken moment of madness, hires Johnny to kill him. It’s a fairly formulaic plot that at first could be mistaken for Fargo in the desert – and although it lacks the nuance and brilliant dialogue found in the Coen Brother’s classic film, in Detour, director and writer Christopher Smith works hard way to breathe new life into a road oft-travelled, but there always feels like something’s off.
Combining the sluggish feel of the vast Californian highway with a sense of impending dread, Smith appears to draw inspiration from Leaving Las Vegas and True Romance, although it lacks the manic energy of Nicolas Cage or brilliance of Tarantino’s now-classic script. Instead Detour finds its hook in a split narrative, seemingly showing parallel versions of Harper’s life in light of a single decision. It’s certainly an interesting use of narrative technique, though does feel slightly clumsy and overambitious, and (perish the thought) a little reminiscent of Sliding Doors. Even so, this doesn’t distract from the overall feeling of the film, a sun-drenched exercise in teenage angst that disorientates its audience and succeeds largely because of its bratty, unapologetic moodiness.
The strength of Detour lies largely with Tye Sheridan, Emory Cohen Bel Powley, both of whom give brilliant, understated performances. Sheridan is simultaneously vulnerable and dangerous as Harper, exuding a strange sort of charisma reminiscent of Anthony Perkins in Psycho, whilst Emory Cohen is unrecognisable from his other starring role this year in Netflix’s The OA. He plays Johnny as a try-hard would-be rebel without a cause, pathetic and almost pitiful, whilst Bel Powley, best known for her brilliant performance in Diary of a Teenage girl, goes bleach blonde and dons a short miniskirt as Cherry, Johnny’s stripper not-girlfriend who soon takes a shine to Harper and the potential escape from her life that he represents. The three young leads are talented enough to sell dialogue that’s sometimes stilted, with Sheridan giving a career-best performance as the conflicted law student at the centre of the drama. However, Smith could have elevated his script by making Bel Powley’s Cherry more of a focus; she’s infinitely more compelling than Johnny, and never really gets her chance to shine, instead simply acting as an accessory to Johnny and Harper.
In Detour, Smith gives us a sprawling, petulant road trip movie, paying homage to the genre greats that came before it. It is a little derivative, and never fully leans into its ambitious first act, meaning Detour unlikely to be remembered as a cult favourite in years to come. Yet as a mediation on millennial apathy, greed and the recklessness of disenfranchised youth, and for Sheridan and the (although under-utilised) Powley, it’s worth a watch.
Detour is released on May 26th