Combustible Celluloid
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With: Garrett Hedlund, Oscar Isaac, Louise Bourgoin, Walton Goggins, Mark Wahlberg, Fran Kranz
Written by: William Monahan
Directed by: William Monahan
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violence
Running Time: 93
Date: 01/22/2016

Mojave (2016)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Just Desert

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This bizarre, quasi-existential neo-Western is full of brainy chit-chat but doesn't actually offer any real ideas. The characters are so thin that the outcome of their conflict doesn't really matter. There's no one to root for. The second film directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed) -- whose previous film was the equally inert London Boulevard -- Mojave gets off to a bad start by introducing Tom (Garrett Hedlund), who is famous, though we have no idea what he actually does (he may be an actor or an artist).

Wealthy and petulant and deeply unlikeable, this character heads into the Mojave desert with a couple bottles of booze, perhaps thinking of committing suicide. Before long he meets another wanderer, Jack (Oscar Isaac). They talk, but Tom soon intuits that Jack is not to be trusted. They fight, Tom gets ahold of Jack's rifle, and departs. The next day, while hiding in a cave, Tom accidentally shoots a police officer, and Jack witnesses the accident. Back in civilization, Tom tries to hide the evidence, but Jack also shows up, threatening to expose him. The men seem evenly matched, so there's only one thing left to do: go back into the Mojave for a showdown.

Isaac fares slightly better as the sociopath Jack, reveling in bad behavior and in his crazy costume (with long hair and bad teeth). Walton Goggins and Mark Wahlberg turn up, for no particular reason, in small roles as smarmy, sleazy Hollywood types. References to Shakespeare, Melville, Fitzgerald, and other greats are supposed to inspire deep thoughts, but are only distracting. At least it includes a choice clip from Erich von Stroheim's masterpiece Greed (1924).

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