Mojave (2015) / Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for language and some violence
Running Time: 93 min.

Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Oscar Isaac, Mark Wahlberg, Walton Goggins, Louise Bourgoin, Fran Kranz
Director: William Monahan
Screenplay: William Monahan

Review published December 19, 2015

Mojave Oscar IsaacGarrett Hedlund (Pan, Unbroken) stars as a successful Hollywood player named Thomas, who regularly finds his recharge from the soul-sucking industry by driving out to the the Mojave desert to test himself as a man of adventure who welcomes danger -- be careful what you wish for, the saying goes.  A mishap with his vehicle leaves him out to hike and camp until he can find his way back, soon visited around makeshift campfire by a kooky, armed desert drifter named Jack (Isaac, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), who forces a physical altercation that Thomas gets the better of, allowing him to make a getaway, but not without Jack in pursuit.  Fearing he will never be able to lose this man who is likely off his rocker, Thomas mistakes a police officer for Jack and attacks, but still makes his escape back to his Los Angeles mansion.  Alas, Jack won't give up so easily, and he has the details of a crime on Thomas, engaging in a deadly game that only one of them will come out of alive.

Mojave marks the second directorial effort from Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan (after 2010's London Boulevard), who penned such well-known Hollywood films as The Departed, Body of Lies, and Kingdom of HeavenNo doubt, there's something in the story that Monahan can relate to, being a successful Hollywood player Thomas who yearns for something more challenging to chew on in life than sitting at a typewriter.  It's a familiar premise, somewhat similar to noirish thrillers like Cape Fear with a twinge of The Hitcher, with a good deal of the plot of Robert Altman's Hollywood-literate satirical thriller, The Player, where a crafty murderer's cage gets rattled by a guy who didn't initially mean any harm, and then decides to make his life a living hell.

Though the film features some star power, Mojave has the feel of a schlocky straight-to-VOD release (indeed, the film was shelved for two years before finally dumped on Directv VOD before a limited theatrical release), perhaps only garnering the interest of credible thespians due to the reputation of Monahan as a screenwriter.  Mark Wahlberg, who has a small role in the film as a vice-fueled producer who frequently collaborates with Thomas, has appeared in two of Monahan's films, The Gambler and The Departed, and likely is here as a favor in a scenery-chewing, comic-relief caricature that feels woefully out of sorts with the bleak, existential tone of the rest of the film. Hedlund is OK, but lacks charisma, while Oscar Isaac does his best to act like a demented-but-troubled genius, but never with the kind of edge necessary to make his sociopathic serial killer feel truly menacing and unhinged.

Monahan ties in many literary and religious allusions, metaphorical and metaphysical, to this very basic premise, and a bit of satire on the Hollywood industry, but isn't able to successfully draw out much genuine suspense for the effort as a thriller, mostly due to having uninteresting characters, as well as lackluster camerawork and music to draw upon.  Thrillers are a director's genre, so perhaps Monahan should stick to his strong suit and let someone else shoot his smart and snappy scripts so they don't come across as artificial as Mojave.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo