To call “Where the Road Meets the Sun” a juggling act would suggest that all the figurative balls stay in the air. But quite the opposite is true in this ambitious but scattered multi-character drama, which aspires to Altmanesque complexity and ends up merely addled. The bright young cast may end up giving Mun Chee Yong’s debut feature a level of posthumous celebrity, a la “Empire Records” (“Look who was in this movie!”), but its own lifespan will be comparatively short and sparsely attended.
Attempting to make low-rent Hollywood even more of a metaphor than it already is, Yong and co-writer Tara Samat establish a $40-a-night tourist hostel as the intersection of several stalled-out lives, a diverse group sharing the same emotional inertia. The manager, Blake (Eric Mabius, “Ugly Betty”), is pining for the wife and child he left behind in New York; Takashi (Will Yun Lee) is an amnesiac who’s just awakened from a four-year coma, during which he missed, among other things, 9/11; Julio (Fernando Noriega) is an undocumented immigrant, working at a restaurant and sending all his money home to his wife, which makes him the polar opposite of his new friend, Guy (Luke Brandon Field), a well-off Brit who has nonchalantly overstayed his visa and is shagging every “bird” he can find. Also living in this fleabag, for reasons that go blithely unexplained, is the lovely Sandra (Laura Ramsey).
Determining the timeframe in which all these characters collide requires a bit of math. The film opens on a New Year’s Eve in Times Square, where Blake drunkenly picks up a woman, has sex and breaks up with his wife; 18 months later (it seems), he’s in Los Angeles with the new love, but becomes racked with guilt for having been away from New York on 9/11. (The new babe thus does a disappearing act.) Yong spreads the confusion around: Four years later, we find Takashi in the hospital, suddenly awake after years of sleep, the huge handgun he brought with him (apparently, pre-9/11) still safely in his valise. Confusion, meet implausibility.
However it happens, they all wind up co-habitating chez Blake, and each member of this Tinseltown demimonde is subjected to the vagaries of fate, sex and economics, sometimes all at once: Guy, thinking he’s scored big time, gets a faceful of Mace when he stiffs a Russian prostitute. Takashi and Blake become friends, Takashi explaining away his amnesia with a tale of mountain climbing and “magic air” by which one can forget his or her past. Guy gets a job at the restaurant where Julio works, but after Guy is caught in the pantry with the boss’s daughter, both men are fired and beaten up by the busboys (so much for worker solidarity).
None of this rings true, particularly the characters’ on-again, off-again injuries and the casual way in which Yong doles out cosmic coincidences. Thesps still manage to deliver the goods, however, especially the magnetic Noriega, who makes Julio quite convincing as he tries to hustle his way into the American economy. Lee is also charismatic, although one scene in which he has to communicate anger and frustration could have been done less broadly in semaphore.
Production values are adequate. The recurrent theme music composed by Patrick Kirst is infectious, even as it contradicts the tone the movie seems to be trying to achieve.