The indie dramatic thriller casts Duhamel as Mitchell, a finance exec/family man on a road trip with Carter (Dan Fogler, Take Me Home Tonight), an old friend from whom he’s grown apart of late, due to the vastly different directions their lives have taken. Carter lacks everything that Mitchell has: a wife, a kid, a job, a house, confidence, ambition.
Add “operational vehicle” to the list. While the once-dynamic duo traverses the long, lonely, little-traveled highway that bisects Death Valley, Carter’s truck breaks down. Actually, it’s intentional, so he can buy more quality time with his best bud, but when Carter replaces the sabotaged part, they learn they’re really stuck.
As temperatures plummet, tempers flare. Hope dwindles; secrets are revealed; truths are told; minds go mad. By headlight, Carter gives Mitch a “Travis Bickel” Mohawk — not faked, to Duhamel’s credit.
Drastically altering his vanity is only part of the actor’s appeal on this Route. Maybe it’s all those terrible Transformers movies or his marriage to a Black Eyed Pea — or that his name is Josh — but we tend to think of Duhamel as mere lightweight pretty boy. Well, the pretty boy gets to act, and he rises triumphantly to the challenge. The film is the best gift his 10-year career has received.
I wish I could say the same for Fogler, but he tends to fall (again) into the trap of overdelivering his lines. Scenic Route is largely Mitchell’s story, however, and just when you think screenwriter Kyle Killen (The Beaver) has neutered his own script’s balls in the final minutes, give him until the bitter end.
If you can overcome any preconceived notions of the rom-com refugee in the lead role, you’ll want to see the film through. While Duhamel impressively shows viewers what he’s capable of, so do sibling directors Kevin and Michael Goetz in this, their first feature. I now eagerly await their second. —Rod Lott
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