Director David Gordon Green made his feature debut with 2000’s achingly poetic George Washington, and even though he’s since cut a stoner-friendly Hollywood path (Pineapple Express, Your Highness), he still seems drawn to fragile landscapes. His latest adapts an Icelandic screenplay for its general framework, but the real inspiration is an expanse of ashy Texas wilderness, destroyed in a colossal 2011 fire. Through this apocalyptic wasteland begging for a movie, Green sends a pair of road workers painting highway lines during one sweltering summer. We laugh at them because it’s Paul Rudd (playing fussy) and Into the Wild’s Emile Hirsch (playing spacey), yet their comic bickering yields to solo excursions through the charred ruins; suggestively, it all feels deeper than it is.
Prince Avalanche—Green has admitted that the unrelated title came to him in a dream—evaporates after a while, although it’s never less than quizzical and charming. The movie is set in 1987, and these characters’ occasional formality reveals something of workplace culture that’s been lost. You’ll love the film when it’s being quiet; alas, it begins a slow slide toward cutesy meeting of the minds, which, even in these capable actors’ hands, comes off like an indie cliché. Eventually, they bond, revealing vulnerabilities and having a laugh about them. In that sense, it’s a hopeful story, but we can’t be blamed for expecting something with a molten core.
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