2015 saw the victorious and swoon-inducing rise of Oscar Isaac, thanks to the one-two punch of his strangely alluring bro-dude genius in Ex Machina, and his cocky ship-inspiring rebel in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The downside to this well-deserved wave of success is the mediocre movie it brings with it, released not on its own steam but coasting on its newly minted Name. And so here comes Mojave.
The drama made its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last fall, where the best I could say about it was that it includes a scene where Isaac sports a pink speedo. I know. That sounds promising. But egads the tedium you must traverse for that bit of curious eye candy!
Written and directed by The Departed’s Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan, Mojave follows Thomas, a jaded movie star (Garrett Hedlund) on a self-destructive jaunt through the eponymous desert, where he totals his car before running afoul of Jack, a homicidal drifter (Oscar Isaac). The peculiar pair indulge in a prolonged game of cat and mouse that stretches across the sands, and then back to the actor’s Hollywood home. In new terrain, Jack sheds his battered duster and grizzled beard by luring a thirsty gay man to his doom, then stealing his home, dog and wardrobe (including that speedo).
Sadly, this deadly game has little dramatic weight because Thomas isn’t much of a character, and certainly doesn’t engage audience empathy. Blame a setup that has him bemoaning the outrageous pain of being famous since you were 18! Blame the script that refuses to give us any reason to feel for this sad sack celebrity. Or blame Hedlund who’s charisma is so nonexistant that he triggers spontaneous face blindness in this critic. Anytime he’s not onscreen I forget he exists, or else I get him confused with that other blandsome blond Charlie Hunnam. (Full Disclosure: I was convinced for months that it was the same doofy square-headed guy in both Pan and Crimson Peak.)
Making matters worse, Monahan’s monologues spiral big and bloated with philosophical trills, Moby Dick meanderings, and quoting the likes of William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw. Yet for all the script’s smug navel-gazing, Isaac is mesmerizing. He clearly relishes spitting these elitist musings through a crooked grin with an accent that seems reminiscent of Macho Man Randy Savage. It’s weird, but wickedly entertaining. Still, he’s just the villain, the stalking spectre or—as the overwrought dialogue would try to convince you—Thomas’s dark spiritual doppelganger. Jack is relegated to popping in here and there, leaving Hedlund to sulk and glare his way through a “thriller” too dull to deserve that name.
Mojave wants to be a gritty, provocative L.A, Noir, even lacing Walton Goggins in as a immoral lawyer and Mark Wahlberg (who fronted the Monahan-scripted mess The Gambler) as a skeezy hooker-loving producer. But it’s style with no substance, talk with no walk. The slow-burn that never ignites. And so these snarling and painfully educated men trudge to their final desert-set showdown having long ago smothered my interest under a mountain of pretentious pondering and tiresome tirades.