Dermot Mulroney is one of those faces we've seen in scores of film and TV products. It's likeable enough. It's honest enough. It's even wholesome enough. It's a face we can easily see attached to almost any kind of project - big studio stuff and/or indie flicks - and he has the kind of presence audiences can easily embrace. We want to root for the guy. We want him to succeed at whatever he's doing. We want to see him make it big.
And, yes, I'd have to say that's probably the biggest and best reason to sit through THE RAMBLER, clearly an attempt at some experimental narrative written and directed by Calvin Reeder. While some might try to convince you that THE RAMBLER is the bee's knees (Google it, kids!), I'd have to go the other way and say that aside from some small, independent moments wrapped up in the greater film there really isn't all that much to get excited about here. That's a disappointment, but sometimes a film is a film is a film ... I'm not sure what this is. Or was.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you're the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then this ain't it! I'd encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few modest hints at `things to come,' then read on ...)
The Rambler (played by Dermot Mulroney) was just released from prison, and, once he realizes he's living no life at all back home with his unfaithful `gal pal' and his trailer-park-trash `buddies.' Seeking out something better, he launches out on a cross-country journey to re-unite with his long-lost brother, but, along the way, he'll encounter an increasingly bizarre cast of characters that impart their own unique version of wisdom and life lessons.
Unfortunately, the principle problem with THE RAMBLER is that it presents itself as a macabre road movie, one where our narrator - the unnamed Rambler himself - appears to be on some personal quest. Heroes who go on such a soul-searching must have first and foremost a goal that doesn't only translate to a destination but also something that resembles a personal revelation or epiphany. For all the freakishly weird stops along the way, the Rambler really makes none. In fact, the only epiphany he experiences is in the final frames, and it's something the audience knew all along. Given that narrative framework, then we should've seen him progressing naturally toward this understanding along the way, but writer/director Calvin Lee Reeder serves up his central protagonist/antagonist in too deadpan a presentation for us to really `feel' much less `identify' any growth.
Instead, Mulroney takes the viewers on what more closely resembles a bad drug trip, complete with paranoid delusions and hallucinations. Little of this makes any sense - as I suspect was intended - and there are plenty of indications early on that it was never intended to be. There's plenty of visual and audible trickery present early on, and, since it comes without any context, the audience must make up its own mind about what it all means. But the big giveaway for me was in a scene that takes place outside the pawn shop where the Rambler finds employment; two ladies are `testing out' a sawed off shotgun that fire - gets this - four times without a single reload. From that point, I knew well and good that what I was about to see was entirely fictional - a dreamworld captured on celluloid. Sure, the crackling and static screens were early indicators, but outright silliness showed me that none of this was real.
When you can see the seams, then what you're watching comes apart pretty quickly. "Have you ever seen Frankenstein?" (It's a line of dialogue from late in the picture.) Precisely. With Frankenstein, you could always see the seams.
THE RAMBLER is produced by Also Known As Pictures, Brooklyn Reptyle Films, WindowLight Pictures, and XYZ Films. DVD distribution is being handled by Anchor Bay Films. As for the technical specifications, this indie snooze looks and sounds actually very impressive; there's a wealth of sequences in here that - in all seriousness - might be worth further study by students of films or even folks thinking about getting started on some experimental video project. (As is often the case, I can see there was talent behind and beyond the camera; I'm just immeasurably disappointed that this one didn't add up to anything more significant.) Sadly, there are no special features to speak of ... not Cliff Notes to explain what it all meant ... nor a director's apology.
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. If you're watching closely, then it becomes apparently real soon that THE RAMBLER is little more than a filmmaker's experiment with narrative: it starts with little meaning, it continues losing cohesiveness as the film plods from one stark experience to the next, and it ends pretty much where you figured it would, all symbolizing nothing or - some academic would have you believe - exactly what you think it does. Don't look for it to make any sense (or stick whatever meaning you want in there!), and you might find something to enjoy, though I'd be hard pressed to suggest what that is. Aside from some impressive visuals and a clearly David Lynch inspired story, I thought THE RAMBLER only rambled on for far too long.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Anchor Bay Films provided me with an advance DVD copy of THE RAMBLER by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.