The striking desert around Joshua Tree National Monument and the lovely lighthouses of California provide postcard pretty settings for “Safelight,” a tepid romantic melodrama about two young people looking for one shot at being normal.
Evan Peters is Charles, labeled “Cripple” by his high school classmates, a guy bullied with the old “You think you’re better than us” rationale.
Because he is. Because he’s sensitive and a photographer. Because making movies give screenwriters the last laugh on unpleasant childhoods.
Juno Temple is Vicky, a young prostitute who plies her trade at the truck stop where Charles works. Kevin Alejandro is Skid, her abusive pimp/boyfriend. Christine Lahti is Charles’ sassy boss, and Jason Beghe plays his dying but sensitive dad.
Charles sticks up for Vicky with Skid, Vicky sticks up for Charles with the bullies. She comes to grip with her past and the boy breaks out his late brother’s camera for a photo essay contest, with Vicky driving him to the Lighthouses of California. She does it in vintage muscle cars because this is an early ’80s period piece.
In fairness, “Safelight” sounds more trite than it is. But there’s not much surprising writer-director Tony Aloupis’s tale. Temple and Peters don’t have any special chemistry, and neither character is a stretch.
The film shows flashes of life around the edges, in Alejandro’s mercurial and mean Skid and Lahti’s been-around-the-track-few-times barfly.
Mainly, though, “Safelight” is just a California tourism travelogue — See Scenic Joshua Tree, Visit the Lighthouses of Southern California. Which we do, in 80 odd-but-not-odd-enough minutes.
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout including some sexual references
Cast: Evan Peters, Juno Temple, Kevin Alejandro, Christine Lahti, Jason Beghe
Credits: Written and directed by Tony Aloupis. An ARC Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:22