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Death Valley (2004)

aka Mojave

Director: David Kebo, Rudi Liden
Starring: Eric Christian Olsen, Dash Mihok, Rider Strong, Vince Vieluf, Genevieve Cortese
Rated R Running time: 95 minutes
Released by Allumination

An ethnically diverse group of friends from Los Angeles venture deep into the Mojave desert to attend a secret rave. They eat mescaline, trip out, dance to obnoxious music, have emotional breakdowns, and hook up with a high school girl. Morning rolls around and the partiers decide to let the drugs wear off before they begin their long ride back to the city. We know that they're making a big mistake because we've already seen that the area is crawling with racist, meth-addicted thugs. What happens next? You got it -- they run afoul of a gang of racist, meth-addicted thugs on motorbikes. Will the dainty city slickers be able to get in touch with their more primitive side in order to defeat the bloodthirsty desert rats?

You betcha.

Death Valley
is a bland mishmash of The Hills Have Eyes (sans radioactive mutants) and Deliverance (sans intelligent screenwriting and masterful performances), with a little Wolf Creek (sans the nihilistic tone) thrown in for good measure. The film takes itself very seriously -- so seriously that it refuses to be any fun at all. We spend the first half of the film getting into the characters minds and learning about their problems, presumably to make us care about them when they run into the dirtbike riding maniacs in the second half. While Eric Christian Olsen is sympathetic as the film's reluctant hero and Rider Strong is excellent as the weasley rich kid out to save his own skin, it doesn't really work, as all attempts at creating emotional depth go out the window as soon as the film's villains appear. For all of their raping and pillaging, the gang comes off as slightly less threatening than the Sweathogs from "Welcome Back, Kotter." They mug for the camera, they giggle, they make wonky faces in the background while their leader (Dash Mihok) listlessly delivers motivational speeches about their loyalty to each other. What you end up with is a movie with the different personalities; one is a melodramatic tale of twentysomethings trying to discover who they really are, the other is a disposable action/revenge thriller with laughable villains and underwhelming thrills. Directors Kebo and Liden get points for trying to make something a little deeper than your average low budget revenge thriller, but the two sides simply don't mesh the way they would have liked. When the end comes, we should be reveling in non-stop carnage as the murderous punks are sliced and diced in a variety of crowd pleasing ways. Unfortunately, it all ends with a loud blah, with the thugs getting their comeuppance in the usual predictable ways. This is where a bucketload of ultra-violence could have salvaged the film, but the makers chose to play it safe. It's a serious movie, remember?

You've seen this all before. There really isn't anything that makes Death Valley stand out amongst its peers in the "survival horror" genre. It's not nasty enough, exciting enough, or interesting enough to recommend. The best thing I can say about it is that it's not awful. It's fine for watching on cable on a lazy day when you wish to shut off your brain, but plunk down any money for it.

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