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Canyon, The
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by Jay Seaver

"The gap between a nice looking film and an exciting one."
2 stars

I skipped "The Canyon" at a festival this summer; it was only playing once and I figured its cast and story gave it a better chance of hitting American theaters and video than the sort-of-French, sort-of-sci-fi film also only playing once across the street. So, three and a half months later, the choice is vindicated - it did play Boston a couple weeks ahead of its video release... and the other movie was better.

The frame on The Canyon isn't bad; A pair of good-looking young people from Chicago have just eloped in Vegas, and have come to Arizona for their honeymoon. Nick (Eion Bailey) is eager to spend the weekend taking a mule down the Grand Canyon, but that's not something that can be done on the spur of the moment; you need a permit months in advance. They meet Henry (Will Patton), a guide who claims to know the right hands to grease, and while Lori (Yvonne Strahovski) is skeptical, she goes along with it. Of course, things don't go wrong until they're halfway down.

The best part of The Canyon is in the title; though I doubt that the park service allowed director Richard Harrah to shoot the bulk of the action there (and the credits point to a Utah shoot), the outdoor photography is frequently beautiful; it's a shame that Harrah and cinematographer Nelson Cragg didn't make a little more use of it. There are some nice backgrounds, but Harrah doesn't give us that great a sense of the geography. When the characters are lost, there's no indication of how far off course they are, and when one has to double back, it doesn't set of specific alarm bells (that's three hours each way, they had to pass X peril, there were a lot of paths that look alike).

That's the big problem with Steve Allrich's script: Nothing is very specific. Nick and Lori are nice enough, but they are awfully generic characters. Henry has a very familiar set of quirks. The conversations the three have seldom contain any memorable lines, and the fight for survival doesn't reflect or parallel what is between Nick and Lori on a personal level much at all. In some ways, I'd be more willing to forgive it when the script or characters have an attack of the stupids (such as deciding to test cell phone reception when hanging off the side of a cliff, rather than after having safely reached the top) if it at least seemed to be something individual, but The Canyon is far too vanilla for that.

The cast does what they can with what little they've got to work with, but they can't spin it into gold. Yvonne Strahovski generally hits the right notes whether asked to be skeptical or capable in an action scene, and doesn't quite seem like she's flipped a switch because the script requires her to be Superwoman now. Eion Bailey isn't quite on the same level; he doesn't quite give Nick enough charm to make his occasional recklessness seem appealing. Will Patton doesn't have to break a sweat to hit the target with Henry; we get the point quick enough and he doesn't bother us because Patton is an old pro, but this is pretty much a paycheck role for him. The whole cast, really.

All that might have been forgiven if there were a moment where the movie really kicks into a higher gear and became an exciting thriller, but it never manages that. It's filled with familiar lost-in-the-wilderness situations, and doesn't vary them a whole lot. With the tension between characters not exactly being played up, the movie needs some more visceral thrills, but instead, it tends to just give the audience more wolves, although in somewhat greater numbers and a little closer each time. Harrah and company handle the technical aspects well - good make-up, action staging, and animal training - but never gets us to the edge of our seats.

You can do great things with this sort of set-up - in theory, "The Canyon" isn't far off from "The Descent" or "Wilderness" in concept, just in details and execution. It just never grabs the audience like those movies do, and doesn't offer us great characterization to fill that void.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19286&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/05/09 15:18:52
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 17-Nov-2009


  DVD: 17-Nov-2009

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