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Thursday, July 31, 2008

DEATH VALLEY -- DVD review by porfle

Four friends from the city attend a rave in the middle of the Mojave desert, run afoul of a gang of local psychos on dirt bikes, and spend the rest of the movie trying to survive and escape back to civilization. That's all you need to know about the plot of DEATH VALLEY, aka "Mojave" (2004). As in other movies of this type, most of the entertainment value comes not from great plotting, acting, or dialogue (although those do tend to help), but in how well the filmmakers can do action and suspense. First time writer-directors David Kebo and Rudi Liden do them pretty well. Not exceptionally, but well enough to hold our interest till the fadeout.

Eric Christian Olsen plays Josh, a harried cubicle dweller who's looking forward to a fun weekend in the desert with his pals to celebrate his birthday. Olsen was already on my good side from his role as a dopey blonde himbo in the hilarious NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE, and here he does a pretty good job in the lead. Rider Strong also turns in a good performance as Daniel, the wimpy rich kid who wants to rebel against his dad while continuing to spend his money. Bumper Robinson and Wayne Young round out the group as Anthony and Brick, while Genevieve Cortese plays Amber, a girl who tags along with them after the rave and later regrets it.

After discovering Daniel's SUV vandalized the next morning, the group accuses a couple of scruffy-looking locals of the deed. One of them, Reno, is played by Vince Vieluf, who was Seth Green's moronic brother in RAT RACE. He's basically the same character here, only evil. The situation erupts into violence and shots are fired, leaving Reno's buddy dying of a stomach wound and Brick with a bloody hole through his foot. Things go from bad to worse, until our erstwhile partiers find themselves holed up in a cave with an entire gang of murderous desert rats out for their blood.

What follows is pretty much DELIVERANCE in the desert, with Josh and the rest forced to draw upon their primitive survival instincts to fight off the bad guys. There's nothing really imaginative here--just your basic cat-and-mouse stuff that we've seen in a thousand movies. Some of the good guys will die, and some of them will overcome the odds and survive. Kebo and Liden won't win any awards for movies like this, but they're competent filmmakers and DEATH VALLEY is fairly involving and fun to watch. In fact, it's just the sort of thing that used to go over well back in the old drive-in days when teenagers were in the mood for an action flick that they didn't have to think about. Nowadays, I imagine such films are best watched with a group of rowdy guys and a few six-packs.

As I said, the performances range from adequate to good on most counts. The main flaw of DEATH VALLEY, however, is the miscasting of Dash Mihok as the leader of the bad guys. Someone like THE ROAD WARRIOR's "Humongous" was needed here, but instead we get Dom, a thoroughly tepid excuse for a hardbitten sadist-type. ("Dom"?) He's about as threatening as an overgrown playground bully trembling with insecurities. He's also not too bright--in one scene, he has a hapless captive spread out over the hood of his truck before putting a bullet through the guy's brain, which is fine except that he's shooting his own truck at the same time. Duh-uhh. The rest of the time you wonder why the other grizzled psychos are taking orders from this lame-o. Dash was pretty good in a comedy I saw sometime last year entitled LOVELESS IN LOS ANGELES, and I think he should stick to comedy. Trying to act like a badass doesn't suit him.

The DVD has an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with 5.1 surround sound and Spanish subtitles. Extras include a directors' commentary, a brief making-of featurette, about 18 minutes of alternate and deleted scenes, a gag reel, and trailers for this and other Allumination releases.

I've seen this described as a horror film, but if that's what you're expecting you'll probably be disappointed because it really isn't one. (Unless you consider DELIVERANCE to be a horror film.) However, if you're looking for a decent action thriller with a fair amount of violence and suspense, on about the same level as the stuff we used to watch through our windshields on the old outdoor screen, then DEATH VALLEY should fit the bill.

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