Josh Duhamel as Mitchell
Dan Fogler as Carter
Miracle Laurie as Joanne
Christie Burson as Annie
Peter Michael Goetz as Old Man
Ethan Maher as Cole
Mitchell (Josh Duhamel) and Carter (Dan Fogler) are old friends from way back, but they haven't talked much over the last couple of years, so a long drive through the desert may be just what the doctor ordered to get to some last standing concerns off their chests. Or at least it would have been if they're truck hadn't broken down, leaving them stranded on the side of the road with nothing to do but dig uncomfortable truths. Truths they might not be able to live with.
The first feature from the Goetz Brothers is about as ambitious as filmed drama can get. Two people talking in one place with almost nothing actually happening. If done badly, this sort of thing can be and frequently is interminable; a meandering mess of navel gazing and pseudo-philosophy the filmmakers believe to be deep and insightful.
"Scenic Route" is thankfully not that.
A lot of that is thanks to Kyle Killen's ("Lonestar") extremely well-drawn script, delving slowly and inexorably into Mitchell and Carter's heads without being too heavy or exposition laden, peeling back layers like onion.
Although first you have to get through the surface, which is a little tough. A pair of pseudo-intellectual college guys themselves, Mitchell has turned into a high finance executive on the way up, searching for the American dream amidst increasing possessions – wife, house, boat, son. Like most guys like this in films like this, he's not wild about his life but doesn't know what to do about it.
Carter, on the other hand, knows exactly what to do about Mitchell's life. A college guy who never really grew up, he's a failed writer living in his car who knows exactly what is wrong with everyone's life but his own. He wants everyone to fit into the molds he's made for them and doesn't always think through his decisions, like sabotaging the truck so that he and Mitchell can have some catch up time.
The filmmakers quickly get through the less than appealing opening to the film's real heart as Carter and Mitchell eventually begin to reveal more of what has happened since the last time they met and then gradually become more and more embittered with each other.
None of which would work at all if the actors weren't up to the task. Duhamel and Fogler, in easily the best work either has ever done, dig down deep bouncing back and forth between likability and mean-spiritedness, exchanging the upper hand a dozen times and keeping the movie flowing forward at a breakneck pace despite little actually happening. Duhamel in particular is a real find, giving "Scenic Route" its heart (Carter is a little too silly for that) as he sheds layers along with his hair.
"Route" can't quite keep the pace up, unfortunately. Eventually the need to move the characters away from the car is too great, and once the plot takes hold, the story actually grinds to a halt. Combined with an unremarkable finale, it's hard not to feel a little let down after such promise.
But when "Scenic Route" works it really works, and it's definitely a trip worth taking.