The Rambler

The Rambler


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

A walking reflection of the world he inhabits, The Rambler (Dermot Mulroney) dons shades and a cowboy hat to return home following a four-year jail term that haunts him like some lingering trauma.

Indifferent to the surprise welcome home party put on by his mocking pals and his apparently doting wife Cheryl (Natasha Lyonne), The Rambler lands a job in a pawnshop overseen by Roberta (Robyn Reede), to whose domineering ways he responds by imagining a vengeful shootout. When Cheryl reveals she’s pregnant and that the baby isn’t his, however, The Rambler decides he’s had enough, and belatedly takes up the offer to hitchhike to his brother and sister-in-law across state. Along the way he hitches a lift off a deranged scientist (James Cady), whose car is filled with mummies and a machine that records unlucky customers’ dreams onto VHS before blowing their heads off, Scanners-style.

Following The Oregonian (2010), writer-director Calvin Lee Reeder’s sophomore effort oozes the oddball charm of an anything-goes comedy horror, its eponymous protagonist providing the barest of excuses to carve out a rambling road movie that thrives so much off of its own misogyny, homophobia and oh-so whacky romp of redneck stereotypes and for-the-helluvit bar brawls that it’s difficult to find much purpose. From its punchy opening – a montage of cutthroat precision depicting the gist of a life in jail – it boasts a weirdly likeable energy that gradually wears thinner as the blank-faced Mulroney progresses to The End of Time. Inter-scene transitions mimic channel-hops on an old analogue television, while wholly incongruous digital- watch beeps are intermittently heard as we see unidentified flashing objects in the endlessly blue skies of the film’s New Mexico locales.

Its intended jokes are mostly unfunny (“that man is dangerous, sexually – he does butt stuff”), but as it develops, The Rambler contains enough hallucinatory imagery, lifted straight from low-budget sci-fi horror, to boil over with a certain nightmarish feel. Clearly, The Rambler is disturbed more than he first appears, and there’s an ongoing suggestion that narrative events are externalisations of past horrors; are those recurring appearances from The Girl, played by Lindsay Pulsipher, to do with the unnamed crime that led to his imprisonment in the first place?

Mulroney plays The Rambler like Billy Bob Thornton did [film]The Man Who Wasn’t There[/film], and for a while the film begins to hint at mysteries similar to those that drove The Machinist, though Dave McFarland’s cinematography offers an altogether warmer palette. Other references leap out. A cabbie talks twice of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; a boxing fight against an opponent who has a hook for one hand results in the loss of a sunglass, which may or may not be a visual nod to Jean- Paul Belmondo’s own wink to camera in Godard’s Breathless; multiple unwanted references to The Rambler as a cowboy recall similar allusions in Taxi Driver as well as a significant character in Mulholland Drive; and the whole episodic feel echoes Lynch’s road movies The Straight Story and, in particular, Wild At Heart. What any of this means is anyone’s guess, but for such a deliberately titled film, that’s presumably the point.

Reviewed on: 16 Apr 2013
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An ex-con's impulsive cross country journey leads to the unravelling of strange mysteries.
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Director: Calvin Lee Reeder

Writer: Calvin Lee Reeder

Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Lindsay Pulsipher, Natasha Lyonne, James Cady, Scott Sharot

Year: 2013

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: US

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