THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Detour is a fine example of what I call an Ordeal Movie. The purpose of this mini-genre is to put the audience right alongside the main character(s) as some sort of calamity is faced. When done correctly, the viewer is essentially driven nuts by the thought of what it would really be like to endure the ordeal. In this case, we're talking about a mudslide that buries a car. Inside that car – and utterly trapped – is Jackson (Neil Hopkins of Lost). Over the course of 87 minutes, we observe as his situation grows increasingly dire.
Jackson is initially unsure what to do. It's clear from looking out the windows that he is buried fairly deep. Should he try to climb out, or wait for help that may or may not be coming? Does anyone even know he's under there? The film does an effective job of conveying the sheer misery and uncertainty of his situation. After cracking a window to get a sense of whether climbing to the surface might be possible, a stream of mud seeps into the car, covering his hands and clothes, as well as the seats. There is nowhere to sit that isn't filthy. The sunroof is threatening to crack from the pressure bearing down on it. Food and drink are at a minimum. As with all good Ordeal Movies, you can't stop imagining yourself in the situation, and that creates genuine uneasiness. It helps that the production team has very believably simulated a car that is encased in mud.
By now, some of you may be thinking that Detour sounds a lot like the 2010 Ryan Reynolds thriller Buried, in which a guy was trapped in a box underground. You'd be right. If you've seen that picture, it's impossible not to think about it while watching this one. Quite frankly, having seen the near-perfect Buried only emphasizes Detour's flaws. The screenplay, by Dwight Moody and director William Dickerson, requires Jackson to have conversations with himself in the car. What he says is occasionally silly or awkward, such as a moment in which he begins imitating a television newscaster into the mirror behind his sun visor. Hopkins gives a solid performance overall, but it's tough to make these scenes fully credible, as written. There are also moments in which Jackson flashes to memories of his wife Laurie, played by Brea Grant (formerly of Heroes and Dexter). Grant is very empathetic in the underwritten role; the film overall would have benefited from having more of her.
The stuff that doesn't quite work is all in the first hour, next to elements that work extremely well. Detour is at its very best in the last 30 minutes, in which Jackson makes a desperate attempt to save himself; this third act is nothing but good stuff. The finale rattles your nerves, making you feel all the danger and claustrophobia that Jackson faces. Hopkins really gets to show his stuff here, bringing the character's desperation vividly to life. It's all tense and exciting and nerve-wracking. In spite of the few aforementioned flaws, Detour builds to a conclusion that sends you out the door shaken and thankful to see light.
( 1/2 out of four)
Note: Detour is playing in select theaters and is also available via video-on-demand.
Detour is unrated but contains some intense situations and language. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.
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