The Canyons, Paul Schrader’s stylistic noir thriller, had its premier in New York City this weekend, marking the mainstream debut of adult male performer James Deen playing opposite Lindsay Lohan in a comeback role of sorts, who’s made headlines more for her off-set behavior than for her on-screen appearances of late. While both actors couldn’t have come from more vastly different backgrounds, Deen and Lohan provide enough on-screen energy to keep you intrigued at what is at first a slow-moving story which builds up into a compellingly erotic tale of lust, power, and deception.
Based on a script by Brett Easton Ellis (American Psycho, Less Than Zero), The Canyons tells the story of LA’s bored and beautiful people, specifically Christian (Deen) and Tara (Lohan), a small-time movie producer and struggling actress, respectively. Christian is a producer in name only since his father stops financing his lifestyle if he isn’t doing something to earn it, and Tara is a pseudo girlfriend at most whom Christian uses to film having sex with various people on his iPhone. At the moment, Christian gets his kicks watching Tara having sex with guys. He justifies his current fetish to Tara as “a dude phase” he’s going through when question by Tara about it.
We first meet Christian and Tara at the Château Marmont with Gina (Amanda Brooks), Christian’s assistant, and her boyfriend Ryan (Nolan Funk), a struggling actor whom Christian, reluctantly, offered a part in a film he’s producing in New Mexico. Green, overly-appreciative, the type of person LA could eat alive, is the polar opposite of the much more jaded Christian who out of boredom lets out the details of his and Tara’s very open relationship. What we don’t realize just yet is that Tara and Ryan have a history together, unbeknownst to Christian until he has Ryan followed. Once the pieces start coming together and Christian realizes the extent of Tara and Ryan’s past relationship, Christian’s true character comes to light. Who was believed to be another spoiled rich kid so unlikable you have no empathy for, Deen transforms into a convincingly terrifying Patrick Bateman-esque monster you never see coming, a credit to the acting of Deen, who keeps this demon from escaping until it’s been provoked one too many times.
The Canyons does take a long, long time to build up. The movie seems to not know where it’s going with so many characters being introduced, nor do you even know if what you’re watching is a drama, thriller, or what? It sort of creeps up on you in a good way and the final half of the film it all starts coming together. But you do find yourself watching the clock before anything interesting takes place.
Deen is impressive in his mainstream debut despite a few bumps. He appears to over-act, not hitting his groove until midway through the film, and in going head to head acting-wise with Lohan, he appears a bit way over his head with the more seasoned actress. But once the film grabs you—and it will—Deen is superb as the antagonist, pulling off a terrifyingly chilling screen villain. He will definitely grow and develop his acting chops for further lead roles, and The Canyons is proof Deen is capable of carrying a mainstream indie project.
While sex is central to The Canyons, unlike Schrader’s 2002 film Auto Focus which did have pornography as its central theme The Canyons is not about porn, but more about the post-porn generation engaging in LA’s hookup culture. The Canyons is hardly porn, but it does feature nudity, sexy and sexual people, arousing, titillating simulated sex, and exotic scenery. More importantly, it’s a simple but solid script that nicely captures LA’s overly privileged dark side. Lohan and Deen deliver dynamic performances that make you want to watch even more from them. Lohan turns out one of the best performance of her career, and this is an almost certain career-making role for James Deen.
Do a Shot: when you see Lindsay Lohan flash her boob.
Have a Drink: when you first see James Deen and Lindsay Lohan doing a scene alone and seeing Deen trying to match her acting-wise.
Do a Shot: the second time you see Lindsay flash a boob and share a kiss with a porn actress.
Have a Couple of Drinks: when you see James share an onscreen kiss with a dude and have simulated oral sex with him.