‘Beyond the Reach’
Director:
Jean-Baptiste Leonetti
Stars: Michael Douglas, Jeremy Irvine
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, I KILL YOU!” It’s like a non-clever person’s idea of clever dialogue — a clunker that would feel just right in a grade-Z thriller. Instead, it’s in the semi-respectable thriller “Beyond the Reach” and even delivered by an actual Oscar-winner. In fact, it’s Michael Douglas saying it, doing the soft part in a Gordon Gekko sotto and doing the loud part in the type of howl reserved for fallen matinee idols in 1960s exploitation movies. It doesn’t just ruin what had been a pretty sturdy retro genre entry; it signals its sudden turn into lowest common denominator thriller dreck. Not even the worst DTV fare have endings as dumb as the double whammy one here, and far from what an Academy Award-winning actor deserves, and Douglas was in “Disclosure.”

It even makes what preceded it seem less sturdy, but most of its fits of logic-straining stupidity are that extreme. Douglas plays Madec, a Gekko type for an even more sociopathic corporate shark age. Madec is a moneyed thrill-seeker, and he’s hired Ben, a down-on-his-luck young man’s man, to guide him on a hunting trip in the good old barren Mojave Desert. It’s not long before the trigger-happy, giant rifle-wielding Madec has stupidly shot and killed a resident old-timer. Madec doesn’t want to deal with a murder rap, so at first he works out a Faustian deal with Ben, then quickly suspects him of ratting him out. And so Madec starts pursuing him over the spacious expanse, amidst heat so intense Ben soon turns radish red.

For those who crave credibility, “Beyond the Reach” sometimes strains it, just to keep its minimalist mano-e-mano tale going. But it’s mostly solid-ish, and there’s joy to be had in the way Jean-Baptiste Leonetti dares to shoot in Monument Valley, the old stomping grounds of John Ford Westerns. Leonetti isn’t in a hurry to move the shots — in part because the plot is already pretty thin to begin with — so we get majestic, widescreen images of the oppressive desert iconic studded with jutting rocks. It’s a fine playground for a chase, and one that occasionally finds excuses to go inside caves and a makeshift home buried in rock. As usual, Irvine (“War Horse”) is bland enough to project personality upon, while Douglas quietly chews scenery and relishes the chance to go full-on evil after a rash of nice-ish guy roles.

And then it all goes to hell, more spectacularly than any film in recent memory. Does that ruin what was a pretty good time? It depends. The final 15 are intensely, laughably terrible, as though the filmmakers tried to make it bad out of a sick fit of self-sabotage. But what came before isn’t always all that. Even with less than 90 minutes to fill the plot can feel padded, as there’s not too much one can do with a dude in a truck chasing another dude across a mostly barren landscape. It’s the kind of film where the director is allowed to work on his or her voice in the public eye, and who will hopefully one day be gifted with a script that doesn’t jump the shark before landing the mouth of another.

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