Paul Schrader has come to Venice in two roles: that of jury president of the Horizons section and as the director of The Canyons, showing here out of competition. This is fitting for a man whose CV flits between an impressive list of writing credits (such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) and directorial contributions (most notably American Gigolo). Alas for Venice audiences, The Canyons is far, far from impressive.
The Canyons tells the story of a wealthy trust fund brat, Christian (Jimmy Deen), who has decided to get into producing films merely to get his dad off his back about his layabout lifestyle. He’s in a relationship with Tara (Lindsey Lohan) and in the opening restaurant scene, Christian lets his dinner guests – his assistant Gina (Amanda Brooks) and her boyfriend Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk) – know that he and Tara like to spice things up by inviting girls, couples and the occasional guy to partake in sex games at their home. Whilst Ryan and Gina look like fresh-faced kids straight out of college, Christian and Tara look bored and estranged despite Christian’s affirmations that their sex play is built on love and faithfulness.
However, looks can be deceiving. It turns out that Tara is unhappy with her sexual set-up and has rekindled her relationship with Ryan after ditching him for richer pickings. Christian, meanwhile, is having regular sex sessions with his ex girlfriend (who is not allowed to kiss him), who turns out to have been in acting class with Ryan. Ryan’s boss at the hotel where he works part-time wants to have sex with him, and he’s not the only one.
If you think this sounds complicated, it isn’t. Bret Easton Ellis’s leaden script written is slower than Robyn Davidson’s trek through the Australian outback (as seen in yesterday’s Tracks). In that film, we had an amazing true story, wonderful images and Mia Wasikowska’s charming performance. Here, we have the charmless porn star Jimmy Deen, whose sneer and swagger remain as fixed as Lindsey Lohan’s restructured face. For an actress with so many films under her belt and such vivacity in her youth, this was a poor performance.
Yet it is Funk who provides us with the most wooden portrayal – a bad actor playing a bad actor. Brooks is convincing as the sweet and hard-done-by assistant, but has little to do and is hampered by the dull lines and duller directing. There are a couple of redeeming features: the original music by Brendan Canning and decent cinematography in the hands of John DeFazio. There is also a feel for the less glamorous side of Hollywood, in which all the little fish are swimming in a very large pool.
A little twist at the end of the film is not enough to salvage the other ninety minutes of cinematic torture. The films open with scenes of abandoned and derelict cinemas: with offerings like this, we should hardly be surprised.