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The Canyons

Year: 2013
Production Co: Pretty Bird
Studio: Voltage Pictures
Director: Paul Schrader
Writer: Bret Easton Ellis
Cast: James Deen, Lindsay Lohan, Nolan Gerald Funk, Amanada Brooks, Tenille Houston, Gus Van Sant

One thing you can be sure of when it comes to Paul Schrader's The Canyons; any revenue and/or viewers it gets will be because of the same phenomenon that makes us slow down and look as we drive past a car crash rather than any quality in the film itself.

It's also another film that's proof positive that there's no such thing as bad publicity. How many other films can be rejected from the South by Southwest Film Festival over 'quality issues' and still get so much attention? The answer? None, if they don't star the biggest young actress Hollywood train wreck who ever barreled through the tabloid landscape and the world's most popular male porn actor, like this film does.

Nobody include Schrader or writer Bret Easton Ellis have come out and said what a publicity goldmine they thought it'd be casting James Deen and Lindsay Lohan, and it might not even have been their intention, but you can bet somewhere along the line they and backer Voltage Pictures rubbed their hand with glee over the column inches and clicks their $250K film was getting (curiously, there's nothing about the movie on the website of production company Pretty Bird).

Questions surrounded the film to such an extent we lost track of which ones were real, which ones were urban myths and which ones might have been issued by the Canyons camp to fan the flames. Could Lohan still act? Could Deen? How hot is the foursome Lohan famously refused to do, causing Schrader to take his own clothes off and direct the scene nude if she relented? Was there really another actress on hand in case Lohan stormed off?

After all the chatter, the experience of watching the film is a bit like realising at age 10 you really want to go to Disneyland and finally making it when you're 40 – there are some fun aspects, but it's just a theme park. Likewise, The Canyons is just another tawdry psychosexual melodrama, the sort that clogged the straight to VHS pipeline in the 80s and always had Kurt Kelly doing the trailer voiceover, issuing lines such as the immortal 'it was a place where everything was legal'.

Christian (Deen) is a trust fund kid installed in a mansion in the Malibu hills with his girlfriend Tara (Lohan). A spoiled brat, a scumbag and a pervert, Christian produces movies but appears to hate every minute of it, amusing himself by inviting strangers into their home to bang Tara and film it all.

But Tara is seeing old boyfriend Ryan (Nolan Gerald Funk) on the side, who also happens to be the lead actor in Christian's new movie. That Christian finds out about Tara and Ryan is kind of incidental – along with yoga instructor Cynthia (Tenille Houston) and Ryan's sweet girlfriend (Amanda Brooks), everybody seems to be jumping in and out of bed with everybody else (like the movies in the rest of Deen's oeuvre).

But discovering her betrayal apparently drives the already shifty, manipulative Christian even crazier, and he sets about exacting a strange revenge that (curiously) hurts all the wrong people and even goes right off the rails to outright murder.

The acting isn't Oscar material but it's no worse than much of what you see on screen nowadays. The most interesting thing is the script, which seems not to say anything we haven't seen a million times. Hollywood people are obsessed with sex and not above cheating each other – you don't say?

Back in the 1980s Ellis was the voice of a generation of young, aimless, entitled youth and their moral ambivalence in the shadow of the movie industry's glitz, and maybe Less Than Zero doesn't stand up today as much as you remember, but The Canyons certainly doesn't add anything to a very common mythology.

Deen's already said he prefers dealing with porn people rather than the vacuous back-stabbing he saw in mainstream films. Schrader – after writing such classics as Raging Bull and Taxi Driver – hasn't made a film anyone's watched since 2002's Autofocus. The Canyons was part of Lohan's effort to restore her reputation as a professional, but she has a lot to make up for. And Ellis is too busy starting fighting with people on Twitter to write anything nowadays.

All of which means The Canyons might be the first and last word on tawdry sex farce that's 30 years too late. All that missing was the Giorgio Moroder soundtrack and Adrian Lyne-style shots of shadows from thin Venetian blinds.

The one profound element is the end-of-chapter shots of abandoned and crumbling movie theatres across America. It's a good way to convey a view about the slow death of traditional cinema, but a movie about bone-idle twentysomethings screwing each other (and screwing each other over) is a strange place to put it.

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