The Reach: Looney Tunes in the desert with Michael Douglas

Michael Douglas in Wall Street

Out in the Mojave desert they got a lost dog problem. Coyotes have been sneaking into town, grabbing a prized pooch and dragging it back to the wilderness. The Reach, a rabid thriller based on Robb White's 1972 crime novel, Deathwatch, puts up Michael Douglas as coyote, Jeremy Irvine as the vulnerable pup.

Douglas plays Madec, a city slicker who hires Ben (Irving), a local who knows where the best hunting's at. The pair head into The Reach, a lethal strip of desert that'll cook you in your boots, but when Madec accidentally plugs a prospector and Ben refuses to be an accomplice, the young guide becomes the new sport. He's stripped down to his skimpies and set to running.

The Reach flips the Deliverance template. Fancy-pants Madec is the urban alien who teaches the country boy a thing or two. He arrives in the Mojave in the Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang of 4 x 4s. There's a microwave, espresso machine and cocktail bar on board. He carries an Austrian-import hunting rifle, he's planning a deal that will send American jobs to China. A solid good old boy he is not. Douglas plays him with a slimy charm, but the actor's in well-mapped territory. Madec is an urbane sophisticate living through ruthlessness. He's straight from Wall Street in more ways than one.

Irvine has little to do but look nice in his pants, which he does admirably enough. He scampers between bolt holes, looking for water, some shoes, a line or two of dialogue. The desert offers nothing. Douglas as Madec, meanwhile, goes full-on Looney Tunes. He finds some dynamite in the prospector's cabin and takes to lobbing it at Ben. "Ah ha ha ha ha! Why won't you die?!", he screams. Any moment now a piano will drop on someone's head.

Director Jean-Baptiste Leonetti has style. The Reach is edited at a clip and, for the first 30 minutes, the suspense is held. You could argue that even Hitchcock had a problem resolving his thrillers to any satisfaction. Yet The Reach screeches off so quickly that you're left goggling at the outline of a stylish thriller that's raced to hills. It trails plenty lose ends.

Ben hunkers down into another hide-out. "You can't fool me this time!", screams Madec. It's hard tell how seriously Leonetti, Douglas or Irvine are playing any of it. Take The Reach with a sack of salt and the pulpy conceit still runs bone dry. It's easy to love a B-movie schlocker that's endearingly stupid, but this screams past stupid into plain old dumb.

The Toronto audience go along with it. They whoop as Ben ducks another volley of gunfire, gasp when Madec turns up at Ben's girlfriend's house for the improbable, slapdash conclusion. "You've got to be kidding!", yells a woman in the row behind me. You'd hope so.

Powered by article was written by Henry Barnes, for on Sunday 7th September 2014 18.32 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010