*** (out of five)
Everyone loves a good cheap and cheerful, low-down and nasty noir (or at least I do). Noir is itself a sub-genre of thriller, I suppose, and within noir there’s what I’m going to call highway noir (aka, to some degree, as neo-noir). These are films that don’t actually have a lot of night scenes, instead usually offering the deep blue skies and bold orange sands of the American western desert to provide their high-contrast cinematography. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946, remade 1981) took place along the highways, and there are plenty of modern iterations, such as Oliver Stone’s U-Turn (1997), Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000), and, of course, John Dahl’s masterpiece from 1994, The Last Seduction.
These films aren’t politically correct; there are hookers (at least with hearts of gold), men who hit women (and hookers, with hearts of gold) and femmes fatales. There is usually some graphic violence, a few bodies, misplaced sexual desire, a big baddie worse than the little baddies, a bundle or bundles of cash – often in a bag or a briefcase – and a dubious job gone wrong, such as a hit, often for the cash in the bag. All these elements, plus, of course, blue skies, desert sands and highways, are present in Christopher Smith’s Detour, which also adheres to an admirable genre quality, brevity, clocking in at a sweet ninety-seven minutes.
There are two twists here. The first is that this is a British film, shot primarily in South Africa (!), although it is fully set in and around Nevada. The second is that Smith, known for his tricky takes on low-budget horror such as Creep, Severance and his best, Triangle (2009), fancies up his pretty standard highway noir story with what can only be called the Sliding Doors trick: at the first act turning point, when our protagonist makes a life-altering choice, we then follow two alternative narratives for the rest of the film. This being noir, of course, all choices are bad choices.
The gimmick isn’t really necessary, as the rest of the elements are all in place including some good performances, especially from Brit Bel Powley as – yup! – a hooker with a heart of gold. But it doesn’t hurt either. The film goes down like sweet syrup. There’s no reason to see this one in lieu of some of the better ones mentioned above, but if you’ve seen all those, you’ll probably get on just fine with this. Like its characters, it puts on no airs or graces: it is what it is.
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