“Deep Dark Canyon” is essentially an old-fashioned, nice-outlaws-on-the-run meller redolent of everything from “High Sierra” to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Its fraternal whelps fleeing the heavy hand of justice don’t carry quite the mythic weight or appeal of those earlier films’ protagonists, however, and as implausibilities and dumb behavior pile up, the pic’s essential seriousness grows harder to swallow. Still, it’s a capably crafted action-drama from co-writers/helmers Silver Tree and Abe Levy. Polished item has been playing scattered dates in individual U.S. markets; ultimately, it will find its primary audience on the smallscreen.
On the day Skylar Towne (Nick Eversman) turns 17, his older sib, Nate (Spencer Treat Clark), takes him hunting in the redwood forest around their Guerneville, Calif., home. They wound a buck, then follow its path, but when Nate shoots at the sign of movement, it turns out they’ve killed no less than Mayor Cavanaugh. What’s more, it’s soon generally assumed that this accident was deliberate; though Skylar doesn’t know it yet, the late official killed the boys’ mother in a DUI he wasn’t punished for, so the whole town figures this to be a case of cold-blooded revenge. It doesn’t help that the lads’ dad (Ted Levine) is chief of police, placing him in a most awkward position, or that the Cavanaughs are the big cheeses around these parts.
Skylar, who figures he’s at less risk of jail time as a minor, claims he fired the fatal shot. But the Cavanaughs immediately push for him to be tried for murder as an adult. Panicking, Nate impulsively snatches his brother from authorities, but does so in a messy way that puts the siblings in worse trouble. Handcuffed together, they flee into the woods with a vague plan of reaching Canada.
“Deep Dark Canyon” maintains a lively pace as the boys stay barely one step ahead of their frequently blundering pursuers. But the comic aspects of those drunken trigger-happy yokels tends to work against any real sense of danger, as do a rising number of credibility gaps — notably, would a vigilante manhunt in a fairly populous Northern California region still be allowed to run amok more than 24 hours after its start? It’s also a problem that Nate makes so many stubborn, stupid decisions right up to the end (despite his brother’s objections), diminishing sympathy for the imperiled protags. A bridge leap is right out of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” as is the slow-mo fade.
Levine (“Monk,” “The Silence of the Lambs”) has to do most of the emotional heavy lifting here, with other roles played capably enough but one-dimensionally written. Name thesps Matthew Lillard and Justine Bateman make little more than cameo appearances.
The best element in the decent tech/design package is Daniel Stoloff’s widescreen lensing of the impressive Russian River area. The soundtrack includes several acoustic guitar-based songs penned by Jacob Bercovici and performed by Wyoming, heightening the pic’s sporadic efforts at a folkloric, ballad-like feel that it doesn’t quite have the dramatic heft to pull off. There’s enough salty language to earn the pic an R when it chooses to get an MPAA rating.