Stars: Dermot Mulroney, Lindsay Pulsipher, James Cady, Scott Sharot, Natasha Lyonne, Paul Blott, Robyn Reede and Christopher Dempsey.
Writer/director: Calvin Reeder.
Dermot Mulroney’s ‘Man with No Name’ drifter is all too appropriately at the centre of offbeat auteur Calvin Reeder’s ‘Film with No Point’, The Rambler. Overflowing with dreamlike imagery, illogical narrative progression and impenetrable directorial vision, this dusty, dimwitted indulgence will seem cool to some who think its very obtuse nature is reason enough to praise it. It isn’t; The Rambler is mostly just ridiculous.
Mulroney, a solid presence in both mainstream and indie cinema for two decades, goes out on a career limb associating himself with a work of such niche appeal and debatable worth. The film certainly benefits from his involvement, but what he could possibly gain from taking on the titular role (or, more precisely, what artistic growth could he achieve) is beyond me.
We meet ‘The Rambler’ as he is released from prison into an American Midwest filled with dark-hearted eccentrics. Among them, Rambler’s trailer-park girlfriend (Natasha Lyonne, making a welcome return to the screen) who boots him out of their shared RV; a cab driver (Scott Sharot) with an obsession for old monster movies; a twisted mad scientist (James Cady) whose VHS dream-recorder literally blows the mind; and a girl (Lindsay Pulsipher, working with Reeder again after 2010’s little-seen The Oregonian) who inexplicably falls for Mulroney’s bad-boy caricature.
Reeder’s vision invites consideration and involvement for most of its first half. There is something compelling about Mulroney’s road-trip journey (he is on his way to his brother’s property to work breaking in horses) and sideways detours into odd landscapes, invariably accompanied by a pulsating ambient soundtrack, hold a certain allure. It is clear that Reeder is a big fan of David Lynch, his film rather shamefacedly drawing on imagery from Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, though ultimately minus the character definition that was so crucial to Lynch’s work.
The films’ last 40 minutes, quite frankly, are indecipherable. Reeder indulges in 80s-style gore, physical monster effects, a messy aural mix and swift editing to crazy up Rambler’s descent into a dissociative, nightmare state. Dogs snack on corpses, rotting demon-monsters accompany country-and-western tunes, our hero stoically stares down all manner of B-horror manifestations. None of it makes a lick of sense to anyone bar Reeder himself and his disciples, but it drones on for 99 minutes of incomprehensible inanity.
If the film achieves anything, it is in its raising of the question of just how much responsibility a director has to both his vision and its audience. Bravo to Reeder for getting this before festival crowds, but outbreaks of full laughter and frustrated walkouts, as happened at the Sydney Film Festival screening that SCREEN-SPACE attended, can’t have been what he envisioned. He has somehow managed to not only hold onto but also bring to festival audiences the type of gaudy pretentiousness usually drummed out of over-confident students in their first year at film school. Which is not to say there isn’t a place for totally off-centre works like The Rambler, but inside public theatres is not it.