Following a bank robbery, two thieves reunite in the middle of the desert and within five minutes of their reunion the audience is presented with enough complications to know this is going to be a bumpy ride. There’s a missing sister, most of the bank loot somewhere else, a breakdown (automotive, not nervous), and the questionable intellectual capacity of the two robbers. One is Charlie (Macauley Gray), nicknamed Chooch, a name those of Italian extraction will find appropriate. The other bank robber is known as (she wrote, ominously) “the Stranger.”
Chooch, who suffered the automotive breakdown, is picked up by J.T. (Robert Smith), an alleged Iraq veteran who happens to be a decent shot and definitely not as wholesome as he appears. Unfortunately the dumber of the two thieves, Chooch, is also the better looking and the one with the money that ends up in the hands of J.T. who kills him.
J.T. reports to Archie (Rich Knight), a leader who makes Chooch look like Einstein. Up until this point J.T. has been relatively quiet; when he describes his crime to cohorts we realize why he’s Archie’s subordinate. Rebecca, Chooch’s sister (Cecilie Bull), is another denizen of Darwin and involved with both Archie and J.T. Maybe there will be drama when she discovers J.T. murdered her brother. Probably not.
Darwin is a mining town, and one man owns it, Bear (Norman Whipple). Bear owns the land, he owns the buildings, and he owns the mine. When “the Stranger” finds asylum there, he meets “Crackhead Joe,” another guest of the town’s owner. When characters have names like “Crackhead Joe,” it means one of two things. Either you’re watching a dynamic precedent-setting film like “Pulp Fiction,” or you’re not. When you’re watching Escape from Darwin, you’re not.
Performances do not rise to the level of caricatures. Archie is supposed to be edgy and psychotic, but he comes across as a dumb cracker with a juvenile sense of humor. Cornelius and Claudius are two African-American mobsters who speak stilted dialogue intended to set them apart as intelligent and refined, but, again, they are just cartoons. The plot limps along, supported by transparently, laughable devices (“the Stranger” escapes from being murdered by Claudius and Cornelius when one of them wants to have a smoke before killing him) and suppositions that are immediately accepted as fact. Some of the characters draw conclusions from information they have no way of knowing unless secrets are being shared off-set.
Throughout, there is a hint that the citizens of Darwin and their out-of-town mobster connections are involved in something much bigger (much bigger than the nothing they seem involved in). When J.T. shares a violent war memory it’s as believable as a Bart Simpson prank phone call. That’s the whole problem with Escape from Darwin, the writing charts territory beyond the realm of awful. A confrontation between “the Stranger” and Bear is filled with macho posturing that stronger actors might have carried off, but this cast just plain can’t. It’s followed by a scene between J.T. and “the stranger” that is equally dramatic, with dialogue like, “It’s one of those things that creeps up on you.” “ Watches?” “No, Time.”
The cast is made up of interchangeable hoodlums who differ only by their quirky appearance and whose function is to shoot or be shot. They all get shot. The only drama in Escape from Darwin comes from the landscape, miles and miles of desert bordered by immutable mountains surround the moody, decaying ghost town that is Darwin. Director Istvan Criste. inexpertly exploits these elements, lingering too long on a tattered flag that was more effective in passing. Radio news broadcasts about Iraq and American sacrifices provide a backdrop and unintended humor (“unknown unknowns…the ones we don’t know we don’t know”). If Escape from Darwin is an allegory for America and Iraq, it is—for me—one of those unknown unknowns.
Undoubtedly, Escape from Darwin will have its fans; it won “…Best Action film/ Best Director at the Indie Gathering film festival 2008 and was an official selection at the 2009 Las Vegas International Film Festival, 2008 Washougal International Film Festival, and 2008 Detroit Winsor International Film Festival.” I shudder to consider the competition.
Extras include an Arthouse Trailer and a Grindhouse Trailer (which really is hilarious; its few minutes are monumentally superior to the movie itself). Restrain your enthusiasm, kiddies, it won’t be available on DVD until April 20.
Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent Escape from Darwin? No, and if you ask me again I’ll make you watch it.