For the most part, Scenic Route is a fantastic movie full of excellent writing, surprising performances and straightforward direction. Unfortunately, the film wasn’t content with being just one kind of movie. So it slowly morphs from seriocomedy to violent thriller and then to survival drama. Yet, even with all of these transitions, the film is enjoyable. It’s only when it dips into sci-fi toward the end that audiences will feel cheated of a magnificent film.
Carter (Dan Fogler) and Mitchell (Josh Duhamel) are old time friends who haven’t seen each other for several years. Now in their 30’s, these changed men are practically strangers, yet still acquainted enough that Carter can offer to give Mitchell a lift home. Carter, sentimental at heart, takes the scenic route to foster conversation with Mitchell, who, unfortunately, decides to go sleep instead. But an unexpected breakdown suddenly leaves the two men stranded in the desert with no food or water, and only each other for company and survival.
Scenic Route is not flashy, but that is refreshingly part of its charm. The camera just gets out of the way and lets this beautiful script unfold. The dialogue is some of the best and most natural words spoken in a movie in recent memory. Nothing feels forced, everything has motivation, and by the end of the film, audiences will know these two men. Logistically, despite the single location for the majority of the film, the script makes the most of the truck and the nearby area to keep the audience from feeling claustrophobic despite the open landscape. The only misstep is that the story turns into something other than a character study of Mitchell and Carter. And while the survival aspect seems like a necessary plot device to get the men out of their situation, it is a marked change from the genre of everything that came before it. It’s the ending that’s heartbreaking, and not in a cathartic sad way.
As far as performances go, Dan Fogler and Josh Duhamel turn in some of the best. It’s always easier to act when the script is good, but the two men really make the most of what they’re given. There are obvious moments when actions are spontaneous, like Duhamel kicking the truck and denting it, and that’s when viewers know that an actor has lost him or herself in the scene. And while these roles aren’t the most difficult since the characters are largely “just two guys”, it’s nice to see Fogler and Duhamel be in something and act as someone that isn’t usually what audiences know them for. It goes to show that actors can surprise when given the opportunity to do so.
Even with its fatal quality, Scenic Route is evidence of filmmakers and actors who still have a passion for quality cinema. This is a film that really speaks to the human condition, touching on fears, hopes, vulnerabilities, loyalty, love, lust and every other emotion that fills our lives. But it does so in a non-gimmicky way. It’s only the ending that will disappoint, and will do so in a very big way, but that shouldn’t stop any lover of good stories from watching this film.