Think of it as a piece of anti-nostalgia. “Paradox,” a waste of time made bearable only by its brevity, plays like a bad acid flashback from the 1970s, a time when similarly self-conscious trippy pastiches of rock music and genre conventions proliferated on the midnight-movie circuit. Think of “Zachariah” or “Rainbow Bridge,” no matter how hard you’ve tried to forget them, and you’ll have some idea what awaits you here. And if you’ve never seen those films, well, consider yourself fortunate. You might do well to keep your lucky streak going.
“Paradox” bills Daryl Hannah as its “auteur” (seriously, that’s just what it says in the closing credits) but it appears her chief contribution to this enervating oddity was shouting “Action!” or “Cut!” at appropriate moments. There is little sign that she offered direction, or even polite suggestions, to a cowboy-costumed cast that includes iconic rocker Neil Young as the aptly named Man in the Black Hat; fellow musicians Lukas and Micah Nelson (accomplished-in-their-own-right sons of Willie Nelson) as, respectively, Jail Time and the Particle Kid; a few other members Lukas’ band Promise of the Real; and Willie Nelson himself (fleetingly) as an aged desperado.
More than a third of the movie is given over to interminable vamping and what-the-hell anachronisms as these “actors” eat, curse, philosophize, defecate — behind the doors of an outhouse, thankfully — and generally behave more like musicians enjoying downtime than Wild West outlaws lying low at an abandoned stagecoach station. (Before you ask: Yes, there are indications of herbal consumption.) A sampling of the hazy-lazy dialogue: “Anarchy rules!” “That’s an oxymoron!” “What did you call me?” And, mind you, that is one of the funnier exchanges.
Cinematographer Adam CK Vollick deserves credit for a few clever visual quotes from westerns by Sergio Leone and other masters. And every so often Hannah and her players hint at an underlying back-to-nature theme, as Young and Willie Nelson rob a seed bank (presumably to plant a sustainable crop of some kind), and Micah Nelson — whose attire suggests a Wild West cyberpunk — uncovers artifacts from a now-extinct, technologically advanced society (or something like that). But that is not nearly enough to distract you from stealing frequent and increasingly desperate glances at your watch.
Eventually, Young and Promise of the Real get around to performing a set of new and classic songs — most notably, an extended version of Young’s mournful “Pocahontas” — in what looks like a revival meeting tent. The makeshift concert (which, truth to tell, is the only excuse for this film’s existence) is more than passably entertaining, especially if you’re a longtime Young fan, but it would be much easier to enjoy if Hannah or Young or whoever hadn’t dreamed up the conceit of bandmates needing to tether themselves to the ground before being lifted skyward (raptured?) by the music.
Viewers might require comparable restraint to make it to the end of “Paradox” when it begins streaming March 23 on Netflix.