“ROAD TO PALOMA”
Directed by Jason Momoa
Written by Jason Momoa, Robert Homer Mollohan & Jonny Hirschbein
Starring Jason Momoa, Robert Homer Mollohan, Wes Studi, Chris Browning, Timothy V. Murphy, Lisa Bonet, Michael Raymond-James, Sarah Shahai
**1/2 out of ****
“Road to Paloma” is the type of film that knows exactly what it is and isn’t ashamed. In that vein, the film is nearly immune to criticism.
The downside is that it’s Malick-lite — the type of post-modern Old West drama where every thing needs to be thoroughly hosed-down after use.
It takes place in one of those Southwestern towns where everyone drinks and smokes and the town’s only source of economic prosperity comes from your usual Post-Modern Old West cliches, such as the old auto-mechanic place, the strip joint with wood floors and no air conditioning, the rusty gas station, and my personal favorite: the rockabilly bar where the hired talent is just as drunk as the 23 people in the audience who have come to see them play.
The film’s protagonist, “Wolf” (Jason Momoa), is the descendant of a Native American family who is “on the run from The Law” (what else is new?) because he killed the dude who raped and murdered his mother after the evil White Man failed to bring his Mom’s assailant to justice.
Despite his incredibly stressful situation, he dares to show his face in town for the purpose of collecting his late mother’s ashes from his cool-yet-ironically-strict father (Wes Studi). Wolf’s plan is to spread her ashes across sacred ground near the majestic mountains near his home. His father thinks he’s a careless idiot and has no qualms telling him that the police will put him away for life when he’s caught and that his thirst for vigilante justice has gotten him nowhere.
On the flip-side of things is Arbitrary FBI Guy (Timothy V. Murphy) who has enlisted the help of Some Townie (Chris Browning) to hunt down Wolf by visiting places and acting vaguely threatening. FBI Guy has been dispatched, by the way, by “Agent Kelly”, played by the legendary Lance Henriksen who gladly sleepwalks through his eight-second role with aplomb.
Despite the need for discretion, Wolf manages to stop everywhere and anywhere one might look for a Vigilante on the Run and, for some reason, even befriends and recruits an alcoholic guitar-player (Robert Homer Mollohan) at the local town dive.
Together, they ride through the unforgiving Arizona desert on motorcycles like some sort of post-apocalyptic “Thelma and Louise” — which this movie really borrows from heavily. That isn’t so much a bad thing, except that nothing really happens. Momoa and Mollohan ride from place to place, getting into mild trouble. The film ends up mostly comprised of a lot (and I mean a LOT) of shots of Momoa and Mollohan riding their bikes in sun-drenched Southwestern highways to a dusty southern blues soundtrack.
It’s so care-free that you remain apathetic. It’s simply hard to feel anything. Momoa’s uneven script doesn’t help things, either. You can’t, for one second, sympathize or even care about what you’re witnessing mainly because the crux of the plot is bits of birdseed scattered all over the place, with the major pieces put aside for most of the film until it’s revisited at the bitter end.
At least it’s nice to look at. The cinematography (by Brian Andrew Mendoza) is gritty, colorful, and honest. At times, it’s so involving and inviting, one feels like they’re along for the ride. The visuals presented to us show us one world, bleak and corrupt and then, at once, another world, natural and beautiful.
It’s really too bad that it’s halfway destroyed with make-shift film editing, giving us awkward jump cuts and scenes which end in jarring, abrupt fashion. There’s also a weird problem with audio where most of the actors seem to be wearing their mics which forces the viewer to jack the speakers to the max so that they can make something out of the quiet mumbling from the actors.
The casting is pretty decent but that isn’t saying much as everyone is a stock stereotype.
Momoa, who was pretty much reduced to grunting another language during his tenure on “Game of Thrones”, isn’t bad here. He’s a biker with a heart of gold — somebody who’s seen (and lived) the rougher side of life but uses his tough guy visage to help those in need.
One thing that must be said: this is the newest film financed by World Wrestling Entertainment.
That little tidbit of information might, immediately, cause you to run the other direction and watch something else. That’s perfectly fine. If you’re the type to judge a book by its cover, then go and Netflix the remake of Robocop instead.
For those who have stuck around, I assure you: this movie’s association to its producers is merely “in-name-only”. WWE, in fact, might wish they could come up with a movie as thoughtful as this — which is surprising, considering the dark subject matter and how personal the project was to Momoa.
“Paloma” is hard to like.
One the one hand, it has so many good moments. Overall, it might require patience to understand and fully appreciate. The problem is that Momoa seems to be aiming more for overwrought emotion rather than coherent storytelling and the film, as a whole, suffers because of it.
Even still, WWE Films has certainly put the money up for far worse films.