Monday, July 07, 2014

Road to Paloma: Momoa Rides Through the Mojave

It is like Easy Rider, except there is a reason for the angst and defiance. When Robert Wolf’s mother suffered a brutal attack, the Feds, being Feds, declined to prosecute the case. It was just too much work. However, when Wolf took the law into his own hands, they made his capture a top priority. There will not be a lot of sunsets for the biker and his new traveling companion to ride off into during Jason Momoa’s directorial debut, Road to Paloma (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Wolf is a lot better at being a drifter than the self-destructive rocker, Cash Guirgis. Nevertheless, they ride together for a while, sharing some colorful encounters on the road. Wolf has secretly picked up his mother’s ashes from his estranged reservation policeman father, to spread in accordance with her wishes. Anticipating he might do something like that, Special Agent Williams grabs a reluctant local white copper and heads into the Mojave after him.

Wolf and Guirgis will see some scenery worthy of John Ford on their journey, stopping along the way for some bare-knuckle brawling and a little bit of loving. For Guirgis that means lap-dances, but Wolf prefers using his mechanical skill to seduce Magdalena and her broken down vintage car. It is nice for a while, but it the law is never far behind.

Frankly, Paloma is far more sensitive and moodier than you would expect from Jason Momoa’s WWE-distributed motorcycle-powered directorial debut. Small in scope, it is much more closely akin to his Sundance series The Red Road than Game of Thrones or Conan. They both feature Native themes, as well Momoa’s wife, Lisa Bonet. Regardless, Paloma’s cinematic vistas and alienated vibe are surprisingly effective. On the other hand, Momoa largely wastes the timelessly cool character actors Lance Henriksen and Wes Studi (who has a bit more to do than the former).

As his own lead, Momoa is a serviceable renegade-brooder. He also generates some decent heat with Bonet, as well they should. Even in his brief scenes, Studi shows everyone how it is done, but it might co-writer Robert Homer Mollohan who makes the strongest impression as the reckless Guigis. Unfortunately, Timothy V. Murphy’s unapologetically serpentine Williams just does not ring true. Feds are nothing if not politically astute, so the degree he goes about antagonizing local law enforcement feels more like a clichéd contrivance.

Although it has some swagger, Paloma is not a meathead movie. It is a rather dark, character-driven affair that has a real point to make. Essentially, Momoa, Mollohan, and co-writer Jonathan Hirschbein suggest federal jurisdiction over crimes committed by outsiders on reservation land has created an incentive for predators to prey on Native victims. That is the good old Federal government at work. Recommended on balance, Road to Paloma opens this Friday (7/11) in New York at the Quad Cinema.