Quentin Tarantino and film-noir have influenced quite a bit of directors and Christopher Smith’s Detour wears its influences loud and clear to a shrill degree. [It even features a clip from the 1945 film of the same name, because Our Hero is a film buff.] I personally like both — I love the ultra-violence that explodes after a leisurely character buildup that only hints at who’s who, and I love noir because of the depths and depravity some characters will go to achieve their means, not to mention, twisty plots that sometimes leave holes unsolved, and feature memorable side characters, not to mention the necessary femme fatale. Detour, to be frank, is as unsubtle as a sledgehammer mashing its way through dry wall, and a hat-trick that doesn’t feature a rabbit.
Detour attempts to pay homage to both Tarantino and noir by introducing what looks to be a troubled character in Tye Sheridan (previously seen in Mud, Joe, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and the direct-to-video Dark Places). Here he’s Harper, a rich kid studying law in an unnamed university. His mother is dying, and he fears his stepdad will pull the plug and take off with the family’s money. We’re made aware of this situation in a conversation Harper has with a rather self-involved friend who’s of no help to both the plot or Harper himself, but perhaps the director thought he’d make good comic relief early on.
Anyhow, we soon cut to a bar scene. This isn’t, it seems, the kind of bar any college kid would hang out at — but I may be wrong. There he overhears a conversation between three thugs, and one of them, Johnny Ray (Emory Cohen, a mass of uncontrollable masculine posturing that recalls a version of James Dean) approaches Harper with plans to get into a brawl. Harper blandly treats Johnny to a drink, the both have a conversation that involves murder for hire. The following day, when Johnny Ray along with his girlfriend Cherry (a wasted Bel Powley) actually show up to do Johnny’s part of the deal it seems Detour will turn into a version of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that it doesn’t, but instead, splits the film into two segments. One follows the three of them into Vegas territory; the other one leaves Harper at home. You’ll have to watch this movie to see what Smith is trying to do with his split narrative, because while that technique has been used before, it doesn’t quite work inasmuch as it will confuse the heck out of you. But, let’s face it, there will be film buffs and cinephiles who love this sort of thing and will call it “inventiveness” in the narrative; to me, it just muddled things up.