“Desolate” describes the setting, an American Southwest even drier and more lawless than it is today.
“Desolate” is what we get when climate change has killed off farming, chased away those with options and left only the desperate, law-unto-themselves clans and criminals in the vast arid vistas.
And “Desolate” is a lean thriller set in that apocalyptic not-that-distant future, a world where, as our narrator/hero Billy (Will Brittain) intones, it didn’t take long “for us to turn on each other. Oh how we did.”
“Around here, people either get erased or forgotten.”
This Hell, of blood feuds, violence, sex trafficking and despair?
“We did this to ourselves,” Billy says, farm country ruined by those who farmed it and the politicians who convinced them there was no such thing as climate change.
The Stones are among the holdouts, and when one of their number is murdered by the neighboring Turners, the patriarch (James Russo) has one order for the surviving Stone Brothers (Brittain, Bill Tangradi, Tyson Ritter and actor/screenwriter Jonathan Rosenthal).
“You ride off tomorrow, and you don’t come back here until every Turner’s dead.”
Since this is an Old West turned New West, hurtling towards that “Road Warrior” Armageddon, the boys roll off on dirt bikes.
You ride as far as the little gas that’s left will take you. Vengeance is as quick as fingers can pull triggers. But the Stones stumble across what Turners were up to, kidnapping women, selling them into sex slavery, stashing the cash in “stash houses” and brothels.
The boys decide that revenge is not enough. Since greenbacks are “the last green thing we’re every gonna see in this field,” they set out to get the cash they need to escape.
But Billy has his girl (Natasha Bassett) to get back to, and the deepest grudge of all against the old man. We’ve seen him punished by their sadistic hardcase of a father, who figures if you spare the branding iron, you spoil the child. He’s not all-in on this quest.
And when he’s shot by the (Asian stereotype) sex slavers, the others leave him to his fate.
The opening quest should be more interesting than it is, and the ensuing huntdown — by the heavily-armed traffickers — is repeatedly interrupted for bits of brother-on-brother betrayal and little tastes of this future Wild West where a shootout with a blitzed “Meth Cooker” who quotes “Carlito’s Way” because “I based my life on that movie” is just another way station on The Hero’s Journey.
Screenwriters. Can’t make a movie without’em, can’t shake sense into’em to save your life.
There are kidnappings and firearm “accidents,” hardscrabble transactions over cars, women, etc. and a hero’s helper (veteran character actor Callan Mulvey) with mysterious motives.
Director and co-writer Frederick Cipoletti has cooked up a gritty B-movie with lots of incidents, action and characters, that spills a lot of blood in the dust of the land where it no longer rains.
For all the hitches and starts in the narrative, I found it reasonably entertaining — with solid motivations for characters, even if those characters, to a one, lack urgency, and well-staged shootouts and chases and such.
Brittain, of “Everybody Wants Some” and the recent “Neanderthal Boy” drama “William,” isn’t given scenes that create a full arc — pacifist brother to crazed avenger hunting for his kidnapped girlfriend — for the character. Mulvey is much better at doing a lot with a little, as far as the written form of his character goes.
“Desolate” is about two plot twists too complicated for its own good. And really, why cling to the Asian Sex Trafficker movie stereotype, when the only people crazy enough to stay behind in a land where nothing grows are those tied to the land?
Still, there’s talent here, and style. Cipoletti, a producer and sometime actor turned director, creates a world and fills it with visceral violence and keeps his characters on the move and fast on the trigger.
He ensures that “Desolate” holds our attention up until a finale that is pretty much its undoing.
MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, drug abuse, sexual situations
Cast: Will Brittain, Callan Mulvey, Tyson Ritter, Natasha Bassett, James Russo, Bill Tangradi
Credits: Frederick Cipoletti, script by Frederick Cipoletti, Jonathan Rosenthal. An Uncork’d Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:28