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Road Ends
(1998)
 

Director:Rick King                                
Cast:
Dennis Hopper, Peter Coyote, Chris Sarandon


This PM Entertainment does get points for doing something a little different than their usual wall-to-wall action movies. And it is better than their previous effort, The Sender - but not by much. Not long after it starts, Road Ends quickly becomes a boring drama that doesn't seem to know what it's about. At times, it plays like they are making it all up as they go along.

Surprisingly, the movie actually starts off well, and with a lot of promise. A mysterious man named Estaban (Sarandon) is driving in the desert at night, being escorted by two men in another car. Without warning. he executes a plan that, let's say, makes sure the men will stop following him. He then pulls into a dying town, where the nosy town sheriff (Hopper) tells him where he can stay, at a bed and breakfast owned by Kat (Mariel Hemingway). He goes there to wait for....something, or someone, signing in with a name different than his. This name happens to be the same full name as Gene (Coyote), an L.A. FBI agent working on a drug case that happens to involve Estaban. What connection is there between the two men? Though the sheriff doesn't know about this connection, he is suspicious enough of this stranger in his town to do some investigating of his own - though his jealously of the stranger's attraction to Kat is also probably a factor in his snooping.

There's certainly a lot of stories to tell from that synopsis. Road Ends deals with the telling of these by splitting the narrative in two - alternating between the events in the small desert town, with the happenings of the actual Gene in L.A. This method of telling the stories actually works for the first third of the movie - we are intrigued by the mysterious characters of Esteban and Gene, and we want to know what kind of connection the two men have. Every character and every story in this part of the movie is told in a laid-back fashion that I found attractive. I liked the casualness of the scene at the lake when the sheriff first meets Estaban, and starts to question him. Back in L.A., I enjoyed the matter-of-fact dialogue between Gene and his colleagues; the screenwriter took time here to write lengthy dialogue that's interesting and less stupid than you usually find in a low budget movie. The screenwriter also added a little subtle humor to the mix (one of the gags being that Gene has a partner named "Roger".)

Director Rick King also manages to put a personal touch to the proceedings. He is, of course, assisted by the PM Entertainment trademark of superior photography, and the movie has a generally more expensive look than low budget movies from other companies. The chosen semi-desert locations are attractive to the eye as well. In these desert locations, King manages to generate an atmosphere of both isolation and resignation, appropriate for a dying desert town. The laid-backness of everything seems appropriate.

But eventually, the casualness of everything backfires after this first third has ended. Because by then, we see that for pretty much the rest of the movie, nothing is going to happen. The cool casualness that we experienced was just coasting, because nothing was generating it - even casualness needs some energy. From this point on, much of the movie is consisted of people having conversations not necessary to the plot, and the viewer will get terribly impatient, pleading for anything - even a gratuitous shoot-out - to break the monotony. Well, a subsequent shoot-out in L.A. with Gene is gratuitous, all right, though it's both not exciting and really relevent to the plot. (The only purpose it has seems to be a way to fit the PM Entertainment trademark of glass being broken in every movie.)

The actors don't really seem to care about their performances in Road Ends, as if the uneventful screenplay and the extremely relaxed atmosphere sapped their strength. It's odd seeing Hopper (generally) act pretty calmly in a movie. Now, I'm a fan of Dennis Hopper, and I think he always brings something to a movie, even including this one. Though a lot of time he seems preoccupied by something in his mind, not quite paying attention to the "action" on the set. The character of Estaban is so secretive, Sarandon hardly gets a chance to give any kind of performance, good or bad. Coyote, on the other hand, has a lot of opportunity to act - unfortunately. His performance is so lazy, so effortless, he almost disappears off the screen. His character is also written lazily as well; one scene ends with the hero realizing that he's being followed, and the next scene begins with the followers in handcuffs and in custody. He hardly gets into any action in the movie - in fact, Gene doesn't make it to the desert town until the last ten minutes of the movie, and what happens then made me groan - loud. (There are other signs of lazy filmmaking here, the worst being when a truck barreling down the highway at someone is shot, and then crashes offscreen. You don't even get to see the truck after the crash.)

Speaking of these actors and their characters brings up another problem the movie has - no character really has any focus. Every character seems to be given an equal amount of screen time, and no character seems to stand out from the others. In fact, I wasn't sure who were the bad guys, and who were the good guys. As a result, I didn't give two hoots about who lived or who died. And the result of that is that Road Ends has no point, no purpose, and no particular reason to take the time to watch it.

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See also: The Stranger, Phoenix, Chino

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