"Swerve" is an Australian movie from 2011 that is just now making its DVD/Blu debut in North America from the Cohen Media Group (a company that has covered some truly great releases). I think it's fair to say that it represents, perhaps, my favorite genre of film. Marketed as a twisty thriller, the story features an appealing cast that includes familiar faces like Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, TV's The Chicago Code, and Showtime's often undervalued Brotherhood), David Lyons (TV's Revolution, The Cape and ER), and Emma Booth (Underbelly). For these movies to really work, the characters have to remain ambiguous and the plot has to have the ability to surprise you. The viewer should never know exactly who is zooming who. And that's what makes these pictures so much fun, they are like puzzles in which you never know what might happen next. Unfortunately, "Swerve" sets up just that scenario but really doesn't know what to do with it. Expecting intricate plotting, I was rather disappointed in just how straightforward (hence rather unimaginative) this turned out to be. It's perfectly watchable, to be sure, but I won't remember a thing about it in a couple of weeks.
I really liked the introductory set-up to "Swerve." In the desolate Australian Outback, three strangers are about to (almost literally) collide. We meet a traveler with car trouble (Lyons), a woman fleeing her home (Booth), and a man having completed a violent drug deal. In one moment, their three cars careen around to avoid an accident and destiny is set in motion. A bag full of money becomes the catalyst for an adventure that will also include a local law enforcement officer (Clarke), curious townies, and bad guys bent on getting the money back. It's a great beginning with a few nice surprises. Lyons seems to be the noble hero, but Clarke's motivations are quite questionable and Booth turns into a quasi-femme fatale. Who's really the bad guy? And who exactly is manipulating who? After the nifty (if somewhat unenergetic) beginning, though, the movie gets increasingly convoluted from a plotting standpoint but still manages to be far too straightforward. I know that's an odd statement! But the twists in this twisty thriller simply fail to originate and that makes for a rather bland and expected experience.
"Swerve," as a movie, has two really strong things going for it. The dusty locales are intriguing and the film's score is jaunty and unusual. Clarke (a great character actor) attempts to infuse the movie's rather somber tone with energy and unpredictability, but Lyons is particularly expressionless and Booth's performance is one note. For a film with sex, violence, and double crosses, it all feels so subdued and passionless. It's not badly done, per se, it just isn't a whole lot of fun. This is probably one of the reasons that the movie has taken so long to arrive stateside despite its recognizable cast. It doesn't offer much new to the game. "Swerve" is undoubtedly one of those movies to be discovered on cable TV or rented as a gamble. You might like it well enough in either of these settings. But it's harder to recommend an outright DVD/Blu purchase. I didn't mind "Swerve," but I can't imagine ever sitting through it a second time. KGHarris, 3/14.