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Rated: R / Runtime: 1h 33m

Mojave frames its bootstrap-pulling machismo through the pseudo-intellectual lens of Hollywood, going on a self-reflexive walkabout that never quite works.

A wooden, stereotypically alcoholic, smoking Hollywood sad-sack (Garrett Hedlund) drives off into the desert in search of deeper meaning. His blank ennui plods gratingly along, with shots too tight to accentuate the loneliness and emotional isolation of the desert, until a traveler in black (of course) played by Oscar Isaac approaches his campfire. The two talk in mimetic metaphors of literary gobbledegook until realizing they must battle. The loser here will hunt the winner to his death. We know this because it is a movie.

What worked for Clint Eastwood films doesn’t help here. The deserts, the nameless poetically taciturn men, the violence. The talk of the devil and self-constructing narrative truths. Thanks in part to a truly terrible script, the film’s deflated lack of tension feebly bumps its way through its thriller set-up while characters spout inane ruminations on Shakespeare. Dialogue comes gruff, low-pitched, and stunningly stupid. Oscar Isaac and Walton Goggins are made to say some of the dumbest, hokiest lines of their careers, while Mark Wahlberg’s monologues certainly breach his highest levels of self-parody. Saying quotations from this movie could be on bad t-shirts is an insult to the intelligence behind “I’m with stupid”.

Often framed like a play, tightly between two characters, Mojave fails to escape its self-imposed boundaries while also lacking the visual craft for suspense: we get inevitabilities and occurrences, not causes and effects. Rather than sprawling through the desert, Hollywood mansions, and vacant bars the film is set in, there’s no sense of place to enrich the “empty brat” cliche or his pursual. Side characters exist not as philosophical touchstones, but as plot points – strange for a film so intent on its own meta-narrative (countless conversations compare murder and narrative, superficial commentary on the creation of truth while amounting to nothing).

This confusion, the flux between boring hunter-and-hunted and pretentious proselytizing, is why the promising concept feels like a student film whispering its Burning Man experience through its sandy teeth.

Jacob Oller is an Oklahoma City film critic and writer. Find more of his work at or

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