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.
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