This review was corrected on June 29, 2003.
The 26-year-old actor Scott Caan likely grew up watching films his father James made during the late-1960s/early-1970s, and the influence shows in his debut as writer-director, “Dallas 362.” Set and shot, like last year’s “Spun” and “The Salton Sea,” in grimy flophouses and back alleys of Los Angeles, Caan’s picture refreshingly refrains from borrowing from those films’ stylistic handbook. Rather, it has a relaxed poeticism to it; it’s a sweetly naive, adolescent Hemingway fantasy with a star-making performance by Shawn Hatosy and good ones from everyone else (including Caan). The recipient of the critics’ jury prize at Cinevegas, this low-key but accomplished pic definitely has a future as a festival item and a specialized theatrical release.
The story of two longtime friends, Rusty (Hatosy) and Dallas (Caan), who ramble aimlessly from bar fight to bar fight, always getting bailed out by Rusty’s understanding mom (Kelly Lynch), “Dallas 362” has a first-time-filmmaker’s tendency to overplay its hand. At times, Caan (like Hemingway or Sam Shepard at their worst) gets a bit too seduced by the notion of angry young men working out their frustrations physically when that’s exactly the thing pic purports to be rallying against. (There’s one scene, in which Dallas stares at his split-open and bleeding head in the mirror and seems turned-on by it.) Rusty, who’s supposed to be the one with the bright future in this doomed, “Scarecrow”-esque friendship, occasionally smacks of bad Will Hunting-isms. He’s a loner-rebel caricature: the toughest, most sensitive and most misunderstood kid on the block.
But this shaggy dog of a movie (decked out in work boots and blasted blue jeans), is also involving and surprisingly mature. There’s something sweetly appealing about Caan’s near-fetishization of adolescent angst. Despite his indulgence in cliches, Caan connects to his characters on a deep, meaningful level; auds will care about Rusty and Dallas, even if they don’t quite believe they exist. Caan lets their situations — Rusty is looking for a way back to the Texas of his youth; Dallas is plotting a robbery to set him up for life — play out in unpredictable ways, even if too much time is spent on the Dallas subplot.
Caan stages some lovely scenes, like one early on where a beautiful girl (Marley Shelton) walks into the diner where Rusty is eating and he tells her, without batting an eye, that he loves her, that instinctively he ought to sweep her off her feet and “rescue” her, but that he can’t at the moment, because “it’s a thing.”
Caan also gives ample chunks of the movie over to the very honest relationship between Rusty and his mom. Lynch is very good as the mother — it’s the biggest mother role in recent memory in a movie ostensibly aimed at Generation Y — and she even gets her own tender, unhurried romance with a shrink played by an enjoyably goofy Jeff Goldblum.
But the movie belongs to Hatosy, in his best role to date, whose Rusty is by turns child-like and wise-beyond-his-years, imploding with sadness and rage.
“Dallas 362” overstays its welcome by a bit, but keeps introducing new characters along the way to keep things fresh. (Freddy Rodriguez’s turn as a Cuban shyster with a “Scarface” accent is particularly memorable.) And in pic’s final moments, there’s an unexpected emotional pull.
Widescreen cinematography by Phil Parmet has a day-dreamy haze that captures L.A. very well. The superb opening titles (by Howie Nourmand) are further proof that such sequences are the true renaissance art at the movies nowadays.