Searchers 2.0 finds filmmaker and inveterate movie maverick Alex Cox in what can only be called Greatly Reduced Circumstances—which is saying something, since Cox has rarely made a movie with anything resembling even moderate financing behind him. With both the cult classic Repo Man and the enthralling punk fantasia Sid and Nancy to his credit, you’d think a guy who’s been at it for more than 20 years could do a bit better than a 15-day production shot on frequently over-exposed digital video with semi-professional actors and the (minimal) financial backing of Roger Corman’s California quickie outfit.
Somehow, Cox manages to carve a characteristic effort out of all this; unfortunately, it’s the broad and farcical anti-cinema of Walker and Straight to Hell he’s channeling rather than the more controlled Highway Patrolman or Sid and Nancy. The comedic story of two former child actors who take a road trip to John Ford’s famed cinematic dreamscape of Monument Valley, Ariz., Searchers 2.0 is a mélange of anti-corporatist Godard-ian asides, stock revenge movie clichés, offbeat surrealism and protracted movie-referencing riffs that make Quentin Tarantino’s indulgence in similar movie-loving arias seem the soul of subtlety by comparison.
Cox is an intermittently great and always interesting filmmaker who should have done better over the years. Every time the film industry seems to figure out what to do with him—in the mid-‘90s, he was supposed to direct both the anti-fascist Ian McKellan Richard III and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, two seemingly ideal projects, but was replaced both times—something always goes wrong.
In Searchers 2.0, Cox shows that, despite professional setbacks, his enthusiasm for the medium is undimmed. His giddy ecstasy at going to Monument Valley with a camera and being given the run of the place is palpable, although his heart is clearly more with Sergio Leone’s revisionist Once Upon a Time in the West (another Monument Valley-set Western) than with the Ford classic from which he borrows his title. Cox’s delight in his historic location and in filmmaking itself are visible in every frame but only get transferred into the audience in fits and starts. He’s hermetically sealed, a cine-geek locked in a closet with the fetish objects that comprise his obsessions, performing the rights of Onan with vigor and self-absorption and then asking the audience to applaud for all that jumbled seed he’s just spilled fruitlessly on the barren desert ground.
The most expensive item on any Hollywood set is creative freedom, and Cox has usually insisted on maintaining it. Though Searchers 2.0 is pretty much a mess, Cox still seems like a treasure-filled safe some smart producer ought to figure out how to crack. But whether there’s any way to simultaneously reconcile Cox’s unflinching anti-corporatism and his cinephilic fixation on the corporately produced artifacts of classic cinema is anybody’s guess. Corman completists take note: The legendary schlock maestro has a witty cameo as an evil studio executive. Cox gives himself a pithy walk-on as a fringe film-type, too.
Distributor: Distribution to be set
Cast: Del Zamora, Ed Pansullo and Jaclyn Jonet
Director/Screenwriter: Alex Cox
Producers: Jon Davison, Daren Hicks and Simon Tams
Rating: R for language and some drug content
Running time: 96 min.
Release date: TBD