Few things are more iconic in America than a drifter on an open road.
That fact should give “The Rambler” an instant advantage as a kind of hallucinatory vision of a nameless man with a guitar traveling the country’s lost highways and back trails, passing through soul-dead towns where dreams die.
Unfortunately, writer-director Calvin Reeder doesn’t know what to do with that advantage in a meaningful way. Though “The Rambler” is heavily inspired by David Lynch’s cinematic intersections of American mythology, magic and the feral subconscious (“Blue Velvet,” “Twin Peaks”), it lacks Lynch’s gift for changing the way an audience looks at the world.
While there’s no question Reeder has a ferocious imagination and enviable visual talent, “The Rambler” adds up to a numbing, pointless parade of fetishes, grotesques and arty horror with no narrative — offbeat or otherwise — justification behind it.
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There is a wryness behind early scenes in which the film’s anti-hero, the Rambler (Dermot Mulroney), is seen surviving a prison stint in the Southwest, followed by a return home to an oversexed, angry partner (Natasha Lyonne) and a thankless job in a pawnshop. Inevitably, Mulroney’s character, never without aviator glasses, hitchhikes his way toward his brother’s ranch in Oregon.
The Rambler’s long journey gradually loses all reality and coherence as he becomes involved with a madman (James Cady) whose dream machine explodes the heads of victims; a singing waitress (Lindsay Pulsipher) who may or may not exist or become a gooey monster; or a crazed fiend who vomits extensively onto his face.
Images and ghosts and circumstances keep cycling through the Rambler’s days, but without any useful resonance. There is no why or how behind the story’s feverish acceleration into a free-associating nightmare.
This is one road movie stuck in a ditch.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org