Let’s be honest here. The names attached to The Canyons and the process of how this mini-budget “erotic thriller” got made in the first place is far more interesting than the film itself. In fact, I’m fairly certain that a documentary or a movie based on the making of this film would be totally awesome.
Made on a shoestring budget of just US$250,000, The Canyons is written by famed American Psycho author Brett Easton Ellis and directed by Paul Schrader, the legendary co-writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and the director of American Gigolo, Affliction and Auto Focus. It stars the actress no production company would take on because she is uninsurable, Lindsay Lohan, and the most popular male porno actor of his generation, James Deen. It’s a wild and wacky team that drew a lot of attention over its troubled production — mostly involving Lindsay Lohan meltdown stories — and its sexual overtones — also, of course, involving Lohan.
(If you’re interested — and I guarantee, it’s very interesting — I’d recommend reading this amazing New York Times piece, “Here is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie.” By the way, the film totally bombed, failed to be selected for a bunch of film festivals, and Lohan refused to support the film, which has been branded a new “career-low”.)
All things considered — the budget struggles, the troubled production, and most of all, Lohan — The Canyons is not as awful as it could have been. Sure, it’s bad, and depending on your point of view, arguably embarrassing, but Brett Easton Ellis is too good of a writer and Paul Schrader is too good of a director to churn out a product that doesn’t at least have positive attributes.
The premise of The Canyons is not far from porno/amateur film/student project territory — when Christian (James Deen), a wealthy trust fund douche with Hollywood ties suspects his girlfriend Tara (Lindsay Lohan) could be cheating on him, he spirals into obsession and starts doing crazy things. There’s a little more to that, such as the fact that Christian likes inviting random people to watch him and Tara get it on, or get it on with Tara while he watches. And the guy Tara might be involved with, Ryan (played by Glee’s Nolan Gerard Funk), is a struggling actor (with a girlfriend) who may have to resort to opportunistic gay stuff to make ends meet. Typical stuff, really.
The whole look and feel of the film reflects its measly budget and can’t seem to escape that Melrose Place soapy melodrama tone, though on the other hand there is that soft-core porn aspect of the film many people have been curious about. Yes, LiLo does get her puppies out, and no, it does not improve the film in any way.
The one saving grace of the film is the surprisingly good performance by James Deen. I haven’t seen his porn work (he proves in one dangly scene that he definitely belongs in porn), but the dude has screen presence and can deliver a line with charisma and conviction. He steals the scenes he’s in and overshadows Lindsay’s performance, which I suppose is not bad given that she appeared to be hung over most of the time. In that sense Lohan’s Golden Raspberry nomination for worst actress is probably undeserved, but to be honest I couldn’t really focus on Lindsay’s acting because I couldn’t stop looking at how bad and old she looked — and she’s just 27! She just looked terrible, and I sincerely hope she gets some help because she needs it.
As bad as The Canyons is, at least it does not come with any misleading expectations of it being good. More importantly, it’s not a boring film. I managed to remain focused for most of the 99-minute running time, wondering whether the film might be heading towards something better. It didn’t, of course, but it kept me watching.
There are actually some parallels to be drawn between The Canyons and Tommy Wisseau’s legendary masterpiece, The Room, the so-called “Citizen Kane of bad movies.” Both look like trite amateur flicks with bad sex scenes and are about an obsessive wealthy guy who goes crazy when he suspects that his girlfriend might be cheating on him. However, while The Room is so unintentionally and laughably bad that it has become a cult classic and is loved around the world, The Canyons is just “normal bad,” and that in my opinion makes it a worse film.
1.5 stars out of 5