'The Canyons' review: Lindsay Lohan ends up in porn, or something like it

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Both sides of the Lindsay Lohan divide can draw comfort from "The Canyons," Paul Schrader's lurid film of the Bret Easton Ellis script about "what a small town" Los Angeles is for the young and beautiful around the fringes of the film industry.

Lohan fans -- those few who haven't given up -- can see the talent in the wounded, almost autobiographical vulnerability she brings to a one-time aspiring actress who settled for a rich creep "who takes care of me." She may be puffy and pale with a weary smoker's laugh, but the lights are still on and the self-awareness of this performance should give her hope for the future.

And Lohan haters can smirk that they always knew she'd end up in porn -- or something like it.

"The Canyons" sees Ellis ("Less Than Zero," "American Psycho") and Schrader ("American Gigolo," "Auto Focus") reliving their '80s glory days in a sordid tale of sex, betrayal, decadence, sex and manipulation. Two couples, and assorted hangers-on and friends of friends, find themselves under the spell -- the thumb, actually -- of another Ellis "trust fund" psycho.

Christian, in a riveting turn by the porn actor James Deen, gets his way in this world -- living high in the hills overlooking L.A.'s canyons, driving sports cars and spending daddy's money on a movie about to shoot in New Mexico.

Tara (Lohan), his girlfriend, spoke up for a young untested actor, Ryan ( Nolan Funk). The fact that Ryan is the boyfriend of Gina ( Amanda Brooks), Christian's assistant, both seals the deal and seems awfully convenient, something a brittle dinner date between the two couples makes clear.

Christian is eager to tell the other couple that he and Tara aren't exclusive -- "It's more fun to keep it a little complicated." He's what they used to call a "swinger," hiring women, men and couples to mix things up, sexually, with Tara.

She's irked at his lack of discretion, looking up from her cell-phone long enough to complain: "What's with all the dudes, lately?"

And we're off. Tara has history with Ryan, Christian has a yoga teacher he sees on the side and a need to "be in control" of all the others within his orbit. His machinations include spying on Tara, reading her texts, threatening Ryan through the film's producers and maintaining a cat-that-molested-the-canary grin.

Deen, a younger, thinner Hugh Jackman, is a real find, a throwback to the vivid Ellis characters of the big screen -- especially Christian Bale's "American Psycho."

Lohan delivers layers of meaning to many of her scenes, Tara's clever way of fending off Christian's fishing for compliments, pausing just long enough to consider how to turn his latest suspicious interrogation into an accusation aimed at him. 

When she, with resignation and tears, meets Ryan and says "I'm not going back there," remembering their dating years of want and anonymity, Lohan makes it too easy to read her own history into the moment. 

This no-budget drama has an '80s techno-score and more production values than many a mainstream movie that cost 200 times as much. Schrader maintains a steady, chilling tempo and makes great use of the Sunset-Melrose settings. Even the daylight scenes have an air of sunshiny dread, and only a couple of scenes that scream out for re-takes hint at how little the veteran filmmaker had to work with here. He had to include an orgy scene just to get this financed. 

And you'd have to go back to the '80s to find a film with this jaded a view of Hollywood, a town where every aspiring actor knows every yoga instructor who knows every producer, and they all swap partners and dance. Constantly. 

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THE CANYONS
(Grade: B-minus)
Cast: Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Funk, Amanda Brooks 
Directed by Paul Schrader, written by Bret Easton Ellis. An IFC release
Running time: 1:35
MPAA rating: Unrated, with drug use, nudity and explicit sex, violence
Photo/Video credit: IFC Films
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