The cat-and-mouse thriller “Mojave” (opening in theaters nationwide Jan. 22) crackles with life whenever Oscar Isaac is on screen — but wallows in a bizarre and lethargic malaise whenever he’s off screen.
In short: A disillusioned artist (Garrett Hedlund) has a chance encounter with a homicidal drifter (Isaac) in the middle of the desert. But the drifter discovers a secret that threatens to destroy the artist’s privileged Hollywood life. (watch the trailer)
Isaac’s philosophical and engaging vagrant serial killer is undeniably the strength of “Mojave.” Writer-director William Monahan’s script feels personally crafted for Isaac and his unnerving character. Monahan and Isaac created an intriguing antagonist who is charming (is in gritty way) yet who is also believably capable of committing any manner of violence. He is an x-factor who keeps the film on edge and maintains a menacing, ever-present threat.
Now for what didn’t work … which is pretty much everything else about “Mojave.” This film is theoretically a battle of wits between its two main characters – but as Hedlund’s angsty artist (who is in the midst of an existential crisis) is as flat and boring as Isaac’s drifter is compelling. A film that really only has two main characters should have two evenly matched characters. The artist fluctuates between annoying and frustrating but never becomes worthy of rooting for.
While Monahan creates an intriguing core to “Mojave,” he also fills the rest of the movie with a lot of clutter. The artist has a lot of needless backstory – mainly about how he is famous but unhappy. That backstory is fine … but executing it through a platoon of unnecessary characters is lame. Mark Wahlberg is so out-of-place he is outright distracting. His frenetic cadence and energy make his character feel like he belongs in an entirely different movie altogether. On the other end of the spectrum is Walton Goggins (“The Hateful Eight”), whose low energy delivery of pointless dialogue is on par with every other side character in this odd film.
Finally, this is just a flat-out poorly edited film — which is especially damaging to any film in the thriller genre. In one sequence of scenes, a character is standing idly around during the day — then smash cut to him getting clobbered at night. “Mojave” repeatedly loses momentum and ‘edge of your seat’ intensity through some just terrible editing. And for a film that’s barely 90 minutes long (including credits), this also means “Mojave” feels shockingly long despite its short run time.
Final verdict: Oscar Issac shines in this throwback thriller … but little else in this film works. There’s a gripping and intense thriller within “Mojave,” but one that may have been better served as a short film instead of drawing it out to a 90-minute feature film.
“Mojave” opens in theaters nationwide Jan. 22. This thriller is rated R for language and some violence.