Film Review: Detour

The latest &#8220;survival in a confined space&#8221; thriller, <i>Detour </i>doesn&#8217;t take enough of a turn from expected generic conventions.
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Joining Buried and 127 Hours as part of subgenre (literally a subterranean genre) of movies about men trapped beneath the Earth, Detour follows a similar formula and becomes more tedious than suspenseful. However, William Dickerson competently directs his first feature film, which seems destined for—and might play best on—late-night cable.

In Dickerson’s screenplay (co-written with Dwight Moody), Jackson Adler (Neil Hopkins), an arrogant advertising executive, finds himself in his car surrounded by earth after a California mudslide knocks him off the road. His initial attempts at getting out falter and he becomes both panicky and depressed, recalling the people in his life in daydreams that turn into nightmares. Jackson is most concerned with surviving in order to be with his pregnant wife, Laurie (Brea Grant). He watches footage he shot of Laurie on his iPhone and records messages to her, which he starts to believe will be his last communication before he dies (otherwise, the phone is useless when he tries to call anyone). Through some clever—albeit desperate—thinking, Jackson makes one last try at getting out of the car and up to the Earth’s surface. Whether he makes it or not, he realizes through his experience what is important in life.

Not to be confused with the 1945 cult classic of the same name, Detour shares a few characteristics, including a film noir look, an anti-hero, and a car as an important story component. Otherwise, this new Detour also borrows heavily from the aforementioned Buried and 127 Hours (plus Wrecked and Brake), even right down to the use of new-fangled technology (iPhones or cameras) as helpmates to the hapless protagonists. At least the more independently produced Detour doesn’t blatantly advertise the high-tech products the way the overrated 127 Hours does or make the smart-phone unrealistically usable the way Buried does, but one cannot help long for the days of man-against-nature survival films (e.g., 1953’s Inferno) that leave out the Brave New World assist.

Aesthetically, Detour also avoids the gratuitous CGI silliness that further marred 127 Hours, maintaining more of the simplicity of Buried, but overall they all tell similar stories with similar messages and in similar ways. One of those similar messages—flawed hero realizes the errors of his ways through his trial-by-terra firma—is quaintly humanistic but hardly anything revelatory. (Let’s face it, none of these films is Woman in the Dunes).

At least Dickerson handles his production well, giving a sense of authenticity to Jackson’s scenes in the car and a touch of surrealism to the man’s daydreams. Neil Hopkins does a yeoman’s job playing the leading role—in fact, Hopkins makes his character unpleasant to the point of distancing the viewer from really caring what happens to him, one way or the other. In other words, perhaps the actor is too good! The other technical credits are about average.

Detour appears to mark the “jump the shark” moment of this kind of film during its MacGyver-styled climax; now it is time for the parody—Joan Rivers stuck in a window display after closing hours at Saks Fifth Avenue. That is a movie more people might want to see.