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One of many series I shot for UCB and IFC. 

The Canyons

1 hour 39 minutes

Not Rated (but would get an NC-17 for graphic sex and nudity)

Directed by Paul Schrader

Starring Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Funk, Amanda Brooks, Tenille Houston, and Gus Van Sant

2 out of 4 stars

ON DEMAND NOW. NOT SURE IT’S GETTING A PHILADELPHIA RELEASE.

She’s back! Perhaps the biggest Hollywood train wreck in the world, Lindsay Lohan, is out of rehab in time to promote her newest movie, The Canyons, an erotic drama about lost souls living in Hollywood. The media has certainly been rolling their eyes at this project. First the trailer was released and it was edited to look like a cheesy, badly acted 50s black and white melodrama. So, of course, everyone responded negatively (I, on the other hand, found it really clever). Then an audio from the set got leaked where you could hear Lohan being a whiny, recalcitrant brat who annoys everyone so much that the director walks off. Then news got out that the actress was annoying to work with because she was always late and complained a lot (surprise surprise). Then it was submitted and rejected by Sundance and SXSW (luckily the Venice Film Festival has agreed to show it). Well, it’s finally out and it really isn’t that bad of a movie. It’s just not great either.

Haters can hate, but Lohan is really quite good in the movie. I mean, she’s better here than she was in last year’s debacle, Liz & Dick. It’s the first screenplay written by controversial author Bret Easton Ellis, the provocateur of dark, grim dramas like American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction. I have a love-hate relationship with this guy. Sometimes I think he’s brilliant at portraying the depressing side of the human psyche. Other times I think his stories are just too unapproachable to admire. His characters are never likable. They’re usually rich, greedy, perverted, vulgar, cruel, and drug and sex-obsessed losers who love cursing. That’s the case with The Canyons. Set in the sunny Hollywood Hills, the story is primarily a melodrama. Lohan plays Tara, a materialistic actress living with a rich hotshot director, Christian (real-life porn star James Deen).

He’s a controlling douchebag who has her spied on every day because he’s afraid he’ll cheat on her. Some nights he also invites strangers over to sleep with them. He seems to love her in a weird way, even though he’s already cheating on her with his ex, Cynthia (Tenille Houston). Tara doesn’t seem to mind Christian’s abuse because she doesn’t want to get kicked out of his rich lifestyle. Her hunky ex, Ryan (Nolan Funk), also an actor, has been sleeping with her behind the director’s back and keeps warning her to leave him. Ryan has also just been cast in Christian’s new movie, thanks to his girlfriend/Christian’s assistant, Gina (Amanda Brooks). Christian soon suspects that Tara’s sleeping with Ryan and goes to great lengths to destroy the actor’s life. This includes a scene where he asks his gay producer to tell Ryan that he’ll be fired unless he goes down on him…

The movie’s $250,000 budget was fueled mostly by Kickstarter, a new way of filmmaking where directors ask their fans to donate money. Ellis loves including sex in his stories and the director, Paul Schrader, is known for doing provocative dramas like American Gigolo and Auto Focus. It might seem like these guys are compatible for a movie but they’re not. A movie based off an Ellis story should have a surreal, hypnotic quality about it. At times The Canyons is just like that (with its retro soundtrack and vivid cinematography), but not enough. Mostly it just feels dull and lifeless. Schrader trades the author’s style for tedious dialogue scenes where the camera sets in one place for too long. Ellis has even come out and said that he disliked The Canyons because what his aim to make a “pranky noirish thriller” didn’t work because “Schrader turned it into, well, a Schrader film.” The Rules of Attraction is an equally unlikable melodrama with depressed characters and lots of dialogue, yet that movie worked so much more because of how unique the look and feel of it was. Schrader fails to take us to the “Ellis World.”

It certainly looks like Lohan has gotten work done on her face, and her voice is getting raspier and raspier because of all the stupid cigarettes she’s smoking. Yet believe it or not, she pulls through. Her line-reading is spot-on and she does a decent job of creating a damaged soul yearning for wealth. Hopefully this, along with her fantastic guest host appearance on Chelsea Lately last week, proves that the once lovable actress is finally back in the game. I also had my doubts about Deen. Casting an adult film star as a lead in a serious movie? How can I not have doubts (also, the guy’s name is James Deen, for crying out loud). However, Deen isn’t all that bad here. I mean, his character has zero backstory, but the guy pulls off the “powerful-and-dangerously-controlling-boyfriend” caricature. He also obviously doesn’t mind showing his penis up close in the movie.

The movie’s been doing pretty well on iTunes, probably because people want to see if Lohan is as bad as she was in Liz & Dick. Don’t believe the haters. The disappointing thing about The Canyons isn’t the actress but the direction, along with the general unapproachability of Ellis’s characters. If this had just a bit more energy to it, I might have enjoyed it more.