Detour is not exactly a remake of the 1945 film noir of the same name, but in making explicit reference to that film more than once, certainly owes it a debt of gratitude. Indeed, Christopher Smith’s teen neo-noir – think Brick in Vegas – is nothing if not a stylish and often gripping homage.
High-school kid Harper (Tye Sheridan) is having a bad day. Recovering from a night on the tiles – his coping mechanism for a comatose mother and philandering step-father – he is paid a visit by scummy gangster Johnny Ray (Emory Cohen), demanding payment for the hit job Harper drunkenly ordered on his step-dad the night before. In fact, you could say that Harper is having two bad days. Faced with the choice of walking away or accompanying Johnny Ray, Detour’s narrative splits into two possibilities represented by some nicely pulpy split-screen effects.
In one outcome, Harper reluctantly joins Johnny Ray and honeytrap companion Cherry (Bel Powley) to rendezvous with stepdad Vincent in Vegas. In the second, Harper stays at home only to have to deal with an equally sticky conundrum. It’s a neat inversion of the noirish trope of the one bad but avoidable decision that leads to catastrophe – sometimes the odds are stacked against you whatever your play.
Following solid work in last year’s otherwise ropey X-Men: Apocalypse, Sheridan is excellent as the callow Harper, a posturing, privileged brat whose vulnerability is nevertheless laid bare when reality collides with his adolescent emulation of the fictional rebels he admires. Indeed, in a self-conscious reflection on its hard-boiled heritage, Detour skewers the affected posturing of sophomoric masculinity both in Harper and Johnny Ray, equally as vulnerable but more dangerous in his pathetic world-weariness. Powley, too, acquits herself well as Cherry, though is afforded little opportunity to break the bounds of Cherry’s hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold trappings.
The whole affair rattles along nicely, and though Detour’s ultimate destination will be obvious to anyone with a passing familiarity with crime cinema, plenty of unexpected misdirections help maintain forward narrative momentum, especially with a disorienting late-stage twist that will undoubtedly reward repeat viewing. Christopher Ross’ cinematography makes full use of the films desert reds and yellows, but the distorted wide-angle lens-shots and high contrast, Eisner-esque split framing beg for black and white.
Detour is a cracking slice of B-grade crime cinema, and for fans of the genre comes highly recommended. Smith’s adherence to formula denies his film that coveted fourth star, but his genre chops elevate what could have been boiler-plate fare into a punchy, smart neo-noir.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell