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Road

Writer-director Leslie McCleave's tyro feature "Road" depicts a couple endlessly stuck on a Canadian thoroughfare. Lead perfs by Catherine Kellner and Ebon Moss-Bachrach aren't particularly strong, yet the pair nabbed top performance prizes at the Los Angeles fest -- which this year seemed to overlook the best work in competition.

With:
With: Catherine Kellner, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Jeff Ware, James Urbaniak, Peter Appel.

Stretching far past the limits of even the most patient viewer, writer-director Leslie McCleave’s tyro feature “Road” depicts a couple endlessly stuck on a Canadian thoroughfare. Lead perfs by Catherine Kellner and Ebon Moss-Bachrach aren’t particularly strong, yet the pair nabbed top performance prizes at the Los Angeles fest — which this year seemed to overlook the best work in competition. Minor fests will thumb a ride, but most distribs will find this vehicle commercially radioactive.

Mood is amiable at journey’s start, with Margaret (Kellner) taking along ex-b.f. Jay (Moss-Bachrach) as a driving companion. Given that she’s engaged, Margaret’s thinking in inviting Jay is opaque, however.

Margaret’s job is similarly odd: She’s a freelance documenter of nuclear and toxic waste sites and has been assigned to record some nasty spots in Canada. Whether or not Jay was aware that he was expected to spend time watching his former lover study poisonous land, neither Jay nor Margaret could have predicted that they were about to start losing track of their sense of direction even as their car’s gas tank remains full.

What begins as a faintly unsettling “Twilight Zone” riff, soon becomes deadly with repetition and a lack of ideas. Pic shares with Jake Mahaffey’s bracing, original “War” a desire to create a weirdly apocalyptic road movie atmosphere in the countryside, but there’s little sense of real danger or of being enveloped in a world where the old rules no longer apply.

Things become so numbingly dull that spotting and guessing the movie influences (Antonioni’s “Red Desert” here, Chris Petit’s “Radio On” there) is about the only source of aud engagement that can be mustered. Until a late sequence at an incredibly polluted lake, McCleave does little to turn the eco hot-spots into cinematically disturbing subjects, since her characters are neither terribly upset nor contemplative.

This may account for the lack of impact actors Kellner and Moss-Bachrach leave on the film. Both are thoroughly involved in the story, and come close at times to injecting a fresh angle, but the conceptual grid of “Road” limits their perfs.

Diverse media is deployed in the production, from Super-16 to digital vid, but only once in awhile, as in a snap poll of townspeople about their drinking water, is the camera used in an interesting way.

Chris Brokaw’s moody guitar is fine, but sounds like countless similar scorings. Film is the first in memory (certainly from a U.S. filmmaker) to depict rural Canadians as such a collectively dim and forlorn people.

Road

Production: A Mystery City Films, Ghost Robot production. (International sales: Ghost Robot, New York.) Produced by Zachary Mortensen, Leslie McCleave. Directed, written by Leslie McCleave.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Antoine Vivas-Denisov; editors, Adam Lichtenstein, Jane Rizzo; music, Chris Brokaw; production designer, Neal Corl; costume designer, Tere Duncan; sound, Jaime Reyes; supervising sound editor, Barbara Parks; visual effects, Suspect; associate producer, Gill Holland; casting, Susan Shopmaker. Reviewed at Los Angeles Film Festival -- competing, June 24, 2005. Running time: 92 MIN.

With: With: Catherine Kellner, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Jeff Ware, James Urbaniak, Peter Appel.

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