A missed train sets the stage for Chris Evans’ directorial debut, “Before We Go,” but dramatically speaking, this talky, contrived and ultimately tedious actors’ exercise never leaves the station. While Evans deserves credit for wanting to reveal a more serious, thoughtful side to himself than the Marvel universe will allow, a tepid homage (in title and form) to Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s “Before” trilogy may not have been the best idea. It’s tough to see this late-festival Toronto premiere (picked up by Radius-TWC for a 2015 release) gaining any real critical or commercial traction. Dear Captain America: Don’t quit your day job just yet.
Saddled with a fundamentally dull, obvious script credited to “Rain Man” scribe Ron Bass and three other writers, Evans casts himself as Nick, a trumpet player on the eve of a career-making audition who just happens to be busking in the resonant corridors of Grand Central Station when the beautiful, flustered Brooke (Alice Eve) passes through in a blur, rushing to make the 1:30 a.m. train to New Haven — but alas, not quite fast enough. So Evans’ hipster knight in flannel armor offers to help this clearly distressed damsel, whose purse has been stolen and whose cell phone is conveniently bust.
Long on charm but short on cash, Nick can offer Brooke only maxed-out credit cards and a protective arm around her shoulder as they set off through the Manhattan mean streets in search of her errant Prada bag. Thus the stage is set for a long night of walking and talking amid the pre-dawn neon and manhole steam. They’re like many a couple one might pass in New York en route to the subway after a late night out — except that Evans requires you to spend a very long 90 minutes in their none-too-interesting company.
After some initial hesitation (on her part), these two wayward souls begin to bare themselves to one another. She’s an art buyer in town to close a deal, while hubby is away on business (read: monkey business) in Atlanta. He’s still on the rebound from a bad breakup — he was about to propose, she called it quits — and has spent the night avoiding a friend’s wedding reception where he might bump into … sorry, dozed off there for a sec. Various low-key hijinks ensue, including Nick’s ill-fated attempt to rescue Brooke’s pesky purse from the clutches of some Chinatown black marketeers, a mildly amusing scene in which the couple pose as the musical entertainment at a posh hotel party, and a visit to a storefront psychic (the great John Cullum, by far the liveliest presence here) who knows exactly what folks want to hear. But mostly, the script labors to keep these travelers together (and away from credit lines and phone chargers) as they prattle on about their hopes, their fears, all the wrong decisions they’ve made in their thirtysomething lives, and the meaning of the word “depaysment.” For those who don’t know, it’s French for “a screenwriter’s heavy hand.”
From the minute Hawke’s Jesse and Delpy’s Celine first spied each other on board that Vienna-bound train some 20 years ago now, they seemed like two vibrantly real, complex individuals sharing a passionate connection of body and mind. But “Before We Go’s” Nick and Brooke never seem much more real or complex than the smiling suburbanites in the Sunday-circular ads, their myriad crises plastered on top rather than felt from within. Even when Evans tries to inject some suspense into the proceedings by giving Brooke a secret reason for needing to be home before daybreak, you never really feel there’s much at stake. The other big question — will these lonelyhearts eventually throw caution to the wind and bed down together? — generates even less heat.
Fleet location lensing by d.p. John Guleserian (“Like Crazy”) stands out among generally solid production values.