His hair is long and black, his wardrobe has generous helpings of leather — wrist wraps, a vest. He is Native American and rides a motorcycle through the desert Southwest as if he was born to do just that.
Who is this hero and what is his quest?
That’s the intuitive first reaction to Jason Momoa and “Road to Paloma,” a film he stars in, co-wrote and directed, a simple yet spiritual biker-on-the-run odyssey that punches above its weight, thanks to compelling performances, serene moments of quiet and the most gorgeous cinematography of any American film this year.
Momoa plays Robert Wolf, a man hunted by the F.B.I. A crime was committed against a loved one, and the criminal wasn’t punished. Wolf had his revenge.
“I couldn’t let him walk free,” Wolf explains to his father. Dad’s a Mojave Reservation police officer, a man who makes ceremonial knives as a hobby.
And since he’s played by Wes Studi (“Geronimo”), and thus has gravitas and credibility, we know he would never turn in his son long before he comes out and tells his boy that.
Momoa’s quest takes him South, and then North. He meets his Mojave family, and a companion biker on the road. Cash, played by co-writer Robert Homer Mollohan, is a hard-drinking two-fisted guitar player who isn’t above skipping out on the bill at a diner. Not Wolf.
They exchange poetic banalities about how “It’s not about the bike. It’s about getting on the road and bein’ free.” They dabble in unsanctioned brawling for cash, help people and Wolf, at least, has a romantic encounter with an exotic beauty driving an antique pink Cadillac (Momao’s wife, Lisa Bonet). All the while they’re pursued by a reluctant, Mojave-savvy Fed (Chris Browning) and the hardcase agent determined to bring Wolf to justice (Timothy V. Murphy).
What makes this simply simplistic story work is Momoa’s Eastwood-like love of silence. Rarely is an unnecessary line uttered, the back story is slowly and deliberately filled in and we’re never given more plot than is needed. Momoa brings a Wes Studi-like stillness to Wolf, which helps us forget that elaborate hairdo he has to keep out of his eyes.
And director of photography Brian Andrew Mendoza is a revelation — scene after scene of stunning images painted in sage and mesquite, turquoise skies and vermilion sunsets as backdrops to some of the most dazzling scenery any motorcyclist could ever hope to ride through.
Call it a vanity project or bargain basement movie mythos, but no hard-boiled biker picture ever looked or sounded like “Road to Paloma.” The production credit for WWE — World Wrestling Entertainment — just amplifies how unexpected and out of character this extraordinary feeling and looking genre picture is.
MPAA Rating:R for language, sexuality and nudity, some drug use, and violence including an incident of sexual assault
Cast: Jason Momoa, Robert Homer Mollohan, Lisa Bonet, Wes Studi, Chris Browning, Timothy V. Murphy
Credits: Directed by Jason Momoa, written by Jason Momoa and Robert Homer Mollohan. An Anchor Bay/WWE release.
Running time: 1:31